State budget eliminates program that gave millions to local schools

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State budget eliminates program that gave millions to local schools

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State Superintendent Richard Ross saw firsthand in 2015 how Kettering City Schools used a $8.2 million Straight A Fund grant to upgrade technology district-wide. The district used the money to transform 11 of its libraries into digital media centers. Kettering was one of three schools in the region and several across the state awarded a share of the $150 million innovation grants. LAUREN STEPHENSON/STAFF

Ohio’s Straight-A Fund, a competitive grant program that provided millions of dollars for local schools the past four years, has been eliminated in the new state budget.

The Straight-A Fund was introduced by Gov. John Kasich in 2013 to reward innovative proposals driving school achievement and efficiency. Many school districts — including Beavercreek, Kettering, Ross and Springfield — used it to fund major technology upgrades for students and schools.

Beavercreek City Schools now will have either iPads or Chromebook computers for all 7,800 students. Assistant Superintendent Jason Enix said that “simply could not have happened” without $4.8 million from two grants, and he said the impact is huge.

“It’s broad, because beginning this school year it will touch every student,” Enix said. “And as far as depth, it changes how instruction is delivered, how students learn and how assessment takes place (in a more personalized way).”

State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said the Straight-A Fund was the largest education “subsidy” program cut in the state budget, but he emphasized that overall state funding for schools will rise by 1 percent each of the next two years.

“These percentage increases are not what schools have received the past two budget cycles, where those percentages had been in the 3 to 5 percent range,” DeMaria said. “But in a year where tax revenues … were almost $850 million below estimate, primary and secondary education continues to be a priority of the state.”

The first two years of the Straight-A program were robustly funded, with schools receiving $233 million in grants. Big local winners included Beavercreek ($4.8 million) and Kettering ($8 million), which bought computers for all students and upgraded its school libraries.

Springfield City Schools collaborated with three other school districts and a dozen community partners on an $11.3M grant to create the Greater Springfield Career ConnectED Center. They turned a former high school into a space that houses an internship program and a center where students can be mentored in fields such as computer programming, digital music production, woodworking, welding, bike repair and more.

The Straight-A program was big on collaborative efforts like that. The Butler County Educational Service Center won a $718,000 grant in 2015, partnering with Miami University and the Madison, Monroe and Talawanda school districts. They introduced Zulama gaming curriculum, which incorporates game design and game theory into existing classes to engage young learners.

In announcing the last round of grants, then-interim state superintendent Lonny Rivera said the program “encourages schools to get creative in the ways they prepare Ohio’s students for the global workplace.”

Funding was reduced dramatically in the second two years of the program, with just under $30 million in funding awarded. But several local schools still benefited.

Northmont schools got $392,000 for a project-based learning effort last year, and Piqua schools, along with Franklin Monroe and Milton-Union, got $899,000 for a collaboration with public broadcasters to develop a science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.

Beavercreek got nearly $3 million for three separate grants to be implemented this year — one providing Chromebooks for all high school students, another for technology and training on a “museum learning” virtual field trip system, and a third for aerospace equipment, curriculum and training to be spread to all seven school districts in Greene County.

“While the funds are not there in the current biennium budget, there’s still going to be the continuing implementation of those grants and the successes that come from that,” Enix said. “We’re thankful for the grants, and they certainly have done a lot of great things for us. I don’t know what the possibility is of the Straight-A Fund coming back at some point, but we’re using those funds the very best we possibly can.”

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