OHIO — COVID-19 continues to amplify long standing issues school districts face around the state, in addition to creating new ones.

What You Need To Know

  • Lawsuits forced the U.S. Department of Education to allow students to access meal sites across cities in their communities regardless of what school they attend

  • Ohio 8 districts say they are footing the bill for charter and parochial schools transportation and state reimbursements aren't covering it

  • Districts like Cleveland that are in remote learning will have to determine how to get all third graders to school buildings in the next few weeks for the Third Grade Reading Guarantee Assessment  

It's been a costly start to the K-12 school year with the pandemic. Districts all across the state have done their level best to work through it all. The Ohio 8 Coalition—which consists of the urban districts—said there have been some wins, some losses and ongoing struggles that have cost them big in time, money, and equity for all students.

School districts in the Ohio have scored some major wins since the pandemic started. Push back and multiple lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Education allowed states to funnel money to kids in poverty needing various services.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) joined one of the those lawsuits. CEO Eric Gordon says if had it gone another way, 75 percent of parochial schools in Cleveland, which serves high-need students, wouldn't have gotten the money. 

"Because the dollars would have ... flowed to more affluent schools where parents are paying tuition," Gordon explained. 

While CMSD was the only district in Ohio to join a lawsuit, the Ohio 8 Coalition as a whole continued advocating for kids. They challenged the USDA and lawmakers to let districts keep meal sites across cities, so all kids could get meals in their community during remote learning.

“Congress did put into the continuing resolution, the CR that kept the government open additional dollars and additional policy to further extend the USDA flexibilities for the balance of the school year."

While they’ve been able to manage those situations, handling transportation with charter schools is a whole other story. Superintendent of Dayton Public Schools (DPS) Elizabeth Lolli says before COVID, drivers worked early and late shifts to accommodate charter school schedules and then their own. For DPS kids, it meant no field trips, no after school program transportation and waiting hours to get home.

So, DPS pitched a solution that involved giving out public transportation bus passes to help transport kids while dealing transportation funding issues. But resistance by some charter schools and Senate Bill 350,​ which indicates no school can provide vouchers for transportation, put an end to the idea. Then came the CDC guidelines. 

“Because of the situation where you have to spread your students out, we have to do more than what we typically do in our routing system. We have to have more routes that our students are on because you can't sit. You can't have students fill up with a full bus," Lolli explained.

To make matters worse,“We don't have the funding in this particular bill to take care of the charters and the protocols. We don't have a system in place. It just goes back onto the public schools to figure it out and to try and manage it and that's that's unacceptable," Lolli said. 

As districts scramble to manage that, they’re also faced with managing the Third Grade Reading Guarantee state test in a few weeks.

“The state is not prepared to change how the testing environment works to accommodate the remote or hybrid school districts. So, for example, the Third Grade Reading Guarantee fall test will be administered here in the next couple of weeks, and it cannot be administered remotely," Gordon said.

The Ohio 8 Coalition and others have called for state testing to be put on pause because they don’t feel test results during the pandemic can be compiled in a fair and equitable way. Senate Bill 358 supports the suspension of testing and state report cards through this school year and the following school year. That bill hasn’t passed yet. 

“Districts like Cleveland that are in remote learning have to determine how to get all of our third graders to school buildings to sit for the three-hour test two days, over a five consecutive day period.”

So, while the Ohio 8 districts and others have made some headway, it’s clear that their problems are far from being solved. The hope now is that what they and others have been advocating for through legislation will open the door to much needed solutions.