Kasich wants answers from inquiry into data manipulation at schools

Gov. John Kasich speaks to members of the  Rotary Club Of Toledo during their meeting at the Park Inn Hotel.
Gov. John Kasich speaks to members of the Rotary Club Of Toledo during their meeting at the Park Inn Hotel.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said on Monday that he wants answers on the investigation into school-data manipulation at two of the state's largest school systems — with one being Toledo Public Schools — as well as the Ohio Department of Education.

"I know there are things in the paper now about the data affecting our schools. Got to get to the bottom of it," the governor told an audience of more than 200 people at the Toledo Rotary Club meeting in the ballroom of the downtown Park Inn.

"Gotta find out what is going on," he said. "You can't have one school district manipulating data to look better than another school district. This is not right.

Mr. Kasich said school leaders' claims that they are under great pressure is not acceptable.

"We will see where it will all come out. Hopefully it won't be widespread and it will be corrected. We got to be on top of it… let's keep our fingers crossed it is not widespread."

State Auditor Dave Yost and the state Education Department had opened a joint investigation of alleged data manipulation at Columbus Public Schools, where officials appeared to remove scores for students who were chronically truant, improving their attendance rates and test scores. TPS Superintendent Jerome Pecko last week said that similar "test scrubbing" has occurred in Toledo.

Later in the day, Mr. Kasich told The Blade editorial board the practice has to stop and that the Education Department shouldn't be absolved if it was involved.

"We have to figure out who has manipulated and who hasn't," he said. "It's extremely disappointing. We will let the [state board of education] do their job; we will let the auditor do their job."

The governor's speech before the Rotary Club also included a litany of his own accomplishments that included plugging an $8 billion budget deficit, job creation in the state, pushing through tough regulations on energy companies for hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and a job-training program.

"We have a major program on job training trying to align business needs with the academics," Mr. Kasich said. "What we find is that people go to school, but they don't know why they are there and they don't know why they are being trained so they either drop out or they graduate and they can't find a job."

He also suggested school districts across the state consider reforms like those enacted recently in Cleveland. Mr. Kasich this month signed into law "the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools," which alters the district's relationship with teachers and charter schools.

The law, which applies only to Cleveland as the state's only school district under mayoral control, includes a provision to let the district keep high-performing teachers over more senior teachers during layoffs — something the governor lauded in his comments Monday to the Rotary and The Blade.

"We've said that seniority in the schools is not the only thing that matters … if you are more senior than a better teacher, we ought to let the better teacher have the job," Mr. Kasich said. "Now that's kind of a radical idea, but that's what happens when you put children first."

He also said children would be introduced to occupations in the first grade.

As Mr. Kasich has said for months, he again laid out his desire to raise the tax on oil and gas companies and also lower the state income tax.

"The reason why I want to put the money in the tax cut is because the income tax is too high in Ohio — 5.9 percent will drive some of our best people out," Mr. Kasich said. "States that grow the fastest are the ones with the lowest or no income tax and we are also going to have tax reform [next year.]"

Regarding the oil and gas tax, he said 20 cents on each barrel of oil and 3 cents on a unit of natural gas is not enough. The state's oil and gas lobby has argued that the tax is unfair and would hinder recent growth.

He was critical of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which some call Obamacare, because of its financial impact on Ohio.

"We have slowed the growth of Medicaid but we expect about a billion dollar hole now, not when you talk about Medicaid expansion, but just the single impact of Obamacare, so we are going to have to deal with that and that won't be an easy thing to deal with," Mr. Kasich said.

The governor said he has time to decide on expanding the state's Medicaid program. If the answer is no, more than 600,000 of the poorest Ohioans could remain without health insurance.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the federal health-care law but not a requirement that states expand Medicaid or face federal sanctions. In, Ohio, an estimated 789,000 uninsured were to be covered through a Medicaid expansion, including 627,000 with incomes under the poverty level.

State Rep. Matt Szollosi of Oregon, the No. 2 Democrat in the Ohio House, said Monday after Mr. Kasich's speech to the Rotary Club that it is President Obama who deserves much of the credit for the turnaround in Ohio.

"I would like to see, and a lot of people want to see, the governor working with this President on any number of issues, including automotive redevelopment in this state, health care, education," he said.

Mr. Szollosi also said he would like to see Mr. Kasich adopt the standard for Medicaid and disagrees with him over reducing the state income tax.

"I'd hate to see 750,000 folks in the state of Ohio not have access to health care. We are talking about the folks who are among the poorest in the state of Ohio," he said. "I think a state income tax cut would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest individuals in the state of Ohio at a time when those resources could be better utilized to help more folks."

Lucas County Republican Chairman Jon Stainbrook agreed with the governor that Ohio had been "completely turned around" since January, 2011.

"One of the things that jumped out is that when he was elected governor, there was 89 cents in the rainy day fund and the state has completely been turned around," Mr. Stainbrook said. Mr. Kasich said the fund now has $500 million.

The governor peppered humor into his speech to the Rotary. He said Ohio would have a more aggressive marketing program for tourism.

"I know everyone likes these Michigan commercials, but I listen to them and they put me to sleep," he said to laughter. "I mean, Tim Allen? Give me a break. We tried to get Beyonce to do ours. We are going to try to market Ohio better because we have a lot to sell."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.