By Heather Anerino
An educator whose research led a coalition to challenge the constitutionality of Ohio's approach to public school funding spoke Tuesday to College of Education faculty, staff and students.
Kern Alexander is a Professor of Excellence in educational and organizational administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a former president of Western Kentucky University and Murray State University.
During his visit to campus Tuesday, he accepted the college's 2008 Samuel I. Hicks Executive-in-Residence award at the monthly Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools (CORAS) meeting. He also delivered the keynote address at the CORAS meeting and spoke to students, faculty and staff during a separate one-hour lecture.
Alexander's research involving school funding, prompted by a 1990 request from CORAS, identified serious financial disparities among Ohio's public school districts.
His findings influenced educators who subsequently established the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. In 1991, the coalition filed DeRolph v. State of Ohio, a lawsuit that has prompted three Ohio Supreme Court rulings declaring the property tax-based funding method unconstitutional.
"A child is a child of the state, not a principality," Alexander said, "and the state owes all children a good education."
Under the funding approach, which remains in place, poor districts stay poor and rich districts rich, he said. That's not because residents don't try to mitigate the situation, Alexander noted, but because of the way school funding is structured as a system.
His solution: address the system.
"Education is a key public entity," he said. "It is the system that can be used to gain attention from legislators to not only better itself, but also reverse that cycle of poverty."
Many future educators in the audience have taught in local Appalachian schools and are all too familiar with the cycle Alexander described. They nodded as he spoke about the disparities between districts and levels of taxpayer support.
"In this day and age, everyone must be aware of issues surrounding school finances," Associate Professor Catherine Glasscock said in introducing him.
Alexander, whose daughter is an Ohio University graduate, noted his excitement about returning to the Athens campus.
"It's certainly good to be back and hear the progress being made here at Ohio University," he said, nothing the wonderful experience his daughter had as a student. "Before I left she said, 'I was so glad I went to Ohio University; every day for four years was a wonderful day,' and I am quite proud that she is an alumna."
The Samuel I. Hicks Executive-in-Residence was established through The Ohio University Foundation in 1976 to honor Samuel I. Hicks, professor emeritus of educational administration at Ohio University. Its intent is to recognize outstanding leaders in education.
Hicks, who died in 1999, dedicated more than 75 years to teaching, research and educational administration. His extraordinary devotion, achievement and service on behalf of higher education reflect the spirit with which the Hicks Executive-in-Residence award is presented.