By The Associated Press
Cleveland Plain Dealer. April 20. 2023.
Editorial: In 1953, Ohio voters created a state board of education. Why are lawmakers trying to gut it now, without another ‘people’s vote’?
On Nov. 3, 1953, State Issue 2 appeared on ballots throughout Ohio as a proposed constitutional amendment creating a State Board of Education. According to Ballotpedia, 913,134 voters, or nearly 57% of Ohioans voting on the issue, approved the amendment.
For the last 70 years, this voter-approved amendment has been part of the Ohio Constitution, as Article VI, Section 4.
It states: “There shall be a state board of education which shall be selected in such manner and for such terms as shall be provided by law. There shall be a superintendent of public instruction, who shall be appointed by the state board of education. The respective powers and duties of the board and of the superintendent shall be prescribed by law.”
Now, after seven decades, and without going back to state voters, lawmakers are trying to hollow out the State Board of Education via two bills — Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 12.
How can that be accomplished without changing the constitution?
By leaving the State Board of Education nominally intact — still with 19 members, 11 of them elected and eight appointed by the governor — along with the board’s power to name (what would become a virtually powerless) superintendent of public instruction.
Such an approach hews — nominally — to the language of the 1953 amendment, but it clearly runs contrary to what motivated that amendment in the first place: a desire to take from the governor and give to the people and lawmakers more direct control over education policy.
Instead, SB 1 and HB 12 would reverse that, by transferring virtually all of the State Board of Education’s substantive duties to a new cabinet-level Director of Education and Workforce, appointed by the governor. That director would then oversee a new state education department, renamed the Department of Education and Workforce.
SB 1 was voted out of the Ohio Senate March 1 on a party-line 26-7 vote and is now pending in the House. House Bill 12 remains in committee.
Gov. Mike DeWine — who, like many governors before him, has sought to gain more control over the mostly elected State Board of Education — has expressed support for this legislation, as he did for a similar bill that didn’t make it through in the last legislative session.
But how does DeWine square that with what the people of Ohio said in 1953 about wanting a voice in the process?
Shouldn’t these changes go back to the voters for their approval?
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the governor, said DeWine had read the legislation and feels confident it follows the requirements of the 1953 amendment by retaining the board and superintendent of public instruction while also changing its powers and duties, as the amendment specifies can be done by the legislature. As to the “will of the people,” how is it possible to deduce such a thing all these years later, especially when the motivations of voters can be so varied, Tierney summarized. What the constitution actually says is what is controlling, he noted.
In other words, the open-ended language of the amendment’s provisions — provisions, it should be noted, written by the General Assembly in 1953 — give today’s General Assembly the power simply to gift control back to the governor, without need for a new amendment, or people’s vote.
The State Board of Education, admittedly, never set the policy world afire — until recently, with battles over anti-racism resolutions and other culture-war issues that brought it into conflict with DeWine and Statehouse Republicans. So could the real reason for this legislation be to thwart the people, again?
As we noted in an editorial last year, voters in three of the four contested State Board of Education races last November “ousted two GOP incumbents in favor of Democrats and elected another Democrat in a contested district previously held by a Republican.” That was shortly before the first bill to rewrite education policy began to move in the legislature.
Evidently, last year’s “people’s voice” was not what the governor and legislature wanted to hear.
There is a way lawmakers can show they aren’t afraid of what a majority of Ohioans actually want: Go back to the people with a straightforward constitutional amendment to eliminate the State Board of Education, and see what the voters say.
Columbus Dispatch. April 23, 2023.
Editorial: Still ‘very angry’ and ‘sick.’ Norfolk Southern must do right by East Palestine
‘Too many people are still getting sick. Too many worry about their farms or even their gardens,’ Sherrod Brown
Far fewer camera crews and reporters can be found in East Palestine since the days after a Norfolk Southern freight train stretching nearly 2 miles derailed and 100,000 gallons of hazardous chemicals it transported were burned.
Black plumes filled the air. Residents were sickened and more than 43,000 fish and other animals were killed.
The nation’s attention has waned, but the needs of the people impacted by the derailment persists. So has the call to strengthen regulations to prevent other tragedies as trains get bigger and longer and the size of the crews on board manning them diminish.
According to the Association of American Railroads, “freight railroad crew sizes have been reduced from five to three to two people pursuant to collective bargaining agreements with labor unions under the procedures outlined in the Railway Labor Act.”
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw reiterated his pledge ‘to do the right thing’ in East Palestine repeatedly during a meeting with the Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board and USA TODAY Network Ohio reporters and editors.
He also gave testimony about the derailment last week at the Ohio Statehouse.
Ohioans and elected officials here and in Washington, D.C., must see that the company keeps Shaw to his pledge to heal the people of East Palestine and prevent future tragedies.
Thus far, not enough has been done.
— The right thing would also be to put action to Shaw’s pledge to help East Palestine residents still left in limbo two months after the nightmarish event.
— The right thing would be for the powerful rail industry to work earnestly with Ohio’s U.S. senators — Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance — to get safety, inspections and investment provisions in their bipartisan Railway Safety Act approved.
Shaw says he agrees with much of the proposed legislation. He should use his influence to get the right thing done.
Making residents whole
Shaw, a frequent visitor to East Palestine, told our board that community members are happy with what Norfolk Southern has done so far including making donations to the East Palestine schools and excavating soil from under the train tracks.
“We’ve got 19,700 employees that really care deeply about our response in East Palestine and I do too. That’s how I know we’re going to do the right things,” he said during the meeting. “You’re starting to see it on the ground. Just (three) weeks ago, we hosted an Easter egg hunt in the City Park, which is a really big deal in East Palestine… It was better attended than it was last year.”
Reached by phone, Brown, who last week visited East Palestine for the fourth time since the derailment, says the picture is not as sunny as the one painted by Shaw and other Norfolk Southern officials.
“Too many people are still getting sick. Too many worry about their farms or even their gardens,” Brown said. “They worry about their homes losing value. They worry about what happens after two or five or 10 years of breathing this stuff.”
Shaw, who earned nearly $9.8 million in total compensation in 2022, says the railroad has already spent $30 million to support community organizations and families.
He says that the money given out is just a “down payment.”
The company met with Ohio Attorney General Yost, who filed a 58-count lawsuit against Norfolk Southern, and stakeholders to establish three funds for impacted people.
The funds would help with property valuation decreases, health care and water monitoring.
The amount of those funds and who will be eligible for assistance has not been established. These details must be worked out immediately.
People are hurting now.
The right thing to do
Emily Wright, development director of River Valley Organizing, a citizen based community organization, told a member of our board that while some city leaders and elected officials are pleased with the progress Norfolk Southern has made, that is far from the norm.
“The vast majority of people we have talked to are very angry at the railroad,” said Wright, who lives in Columbiana, about six miles from the derailment site.
She said the incident was at first downplayed.
“More than the train derailing itself, what happened prior (to that) made it happen — deregulation and all those things — and then what’s not happening,” Wright said.
River Valley Organizing reaches about 41,000 people annually through its voter engagement, mass incarceration, education and democracy, environmental justice, and drug policy efforts.
While many residents have returned to their homes, hundreds are still living in temporary housing without proper compensation for the displacements, Wright said.
They are concerned about their health and the environment. Wright said a colleague recently found oil slicks in waterways. Families and businesses are struggling and expect more from Norfolk Southern and the EPA.
“Farms are very (plentiful) around us here. So that’s a huge issue for people that have crops. And even if their land is OK, unfortunately people are scared to get food now from them. These farms are losing their business,” Wright said.
Preventing future derailments
The Vance and Brown Railroad Safety Act would not make East Palestine residents whole, but it could help reverse some of the harm done by years of deregulation at the price of people.
It includes common-sense requirements most people would assume were already in place.
As reported by the Dispatch, the federal bill would:
— Require trains carrying hazardous materials to give advance notice to states, even if they aren’t high-hazardous flammable trains.
— Require trains with these materials on board to be scanned by hot bearing detectors every 10 miles.
— Update inspection rules and ensure they’re conducted by qualified rail car inspectors.
— Increase the maximum fine for railroads that break the rules to 1% of their annual operating income, instead of $225,000.
— Increases HAZMAT registration fees paid by railroads to fund grants for emergency response training.
— Require two-person crews.
Profits up, people down.
Among other things, Shaw says he supports provisions in the bill about improved tank car standards, increased oversight of inspections and investments in hot bearing detectors.
He and others in the industry do not support the rule that would require two-person crews, something Brown says is key.
The railroad industry as a whole has cut its workforce by about 30% since 2015. Norfolk Southern has eliminated about 40% of its 30,456 workers.
Norfolk Southern, one of the largest railroad companies on the continent, reported record operating profits in January. According to a recent company earnings presentation, the rate of accidents on its railway increased each year between 2019 and 2022.
The train that derailed in East Palestine was carrying 149 railcars, including tank cars transporting vinyl chloride and other combustible liquids, flammable liquids, and flammable gas.
There were just three people on the train.
Before the derailment, Brown said most people assumed five or six people were aboard the long trains passing through America’s communities. It is often just two.
“And they (the rail industry) want it to be one,” Brown said.
Shaw says Norfolk Southern is committed to safety, but he has not seen any data that links crew size with safety.
The Brown/Vance bill will not help East Palestine recover, but it would help ensure the public is safer from the hazardous chemicals rolling through cities, towns and villages just like East Palestine.
It is the right thing to do.
We should push for it long after the last camera crew and reporter leave East Palestine.
Toledo Blade. April 18, 2023.
Editorial: Unintended fallout
If House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan (R., Urbana) was trying to draw attention to Ohio’s epidemic of murder his hearing in New York City was a brilliant success.
But the stated purpose of showing the Manhattan prosecutor behind the indictment of former President Donald Trump as soft on street crimes backfired bigtime.
Mr. Jordan’s allegation that New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg routinely fails to prosecute violent crimes and is prosecuting Mr. Trump based solely on politics was undermined by inconvenient facts from Ohio.
The New York Daily News reports the most recent federal data shows Ohio’s murder rate as 73% higher than Manhattan’s.
According to the latest crime statistics from the FBI by city, Toledo, Akron, Dayton, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus all have significantly higher murder rates than New York City.
In 2019, the last year for which the statistics are available, the murder rate in Lima — a city in Mr. Jordan’s 4th Congressional District — was 11.1 murders per 100,000 residents.
Mansfield, another city in his district, recorded 6.52 murders per 100,000 residents. New York City, in the same year, had 3.8 murders per 100,000 residents.
When Democratic Judiciary Committee members had their turn to speak, following Mr. Jordan’s questioning of New York City crime victims, they suggested transferring the hearing to a truly dangerous location: Ohio.
Mr. Jordan isn’t all wrong that the violent crime and murder rate are rising in New York City and that D.A. Bragg is too protective of defendant rights over their victims.
But as shown by similar or worse crime statistics in other American cities, crime stats isn’t really Mr. Jordan’s target here.
Instead, Mr. Jordan used cherry-picked statistics and the resources of American taxpayers to pursue a purely political agenda in support of former President Trump.
Youngstown Vindicator. April 23, 2023.
Editorial: Career schools in Ohio merit funding boost
When vocational education high schools first gained solid footing in Ohio four or five decades ago, too often they were viewed as the Rodney Dangerfields of public education. Simply put, they got little to no respect.
Many maligned them as stomping grounds for those who would not or could not meet the rigorous standards of the college-prep academic path. Such snobbish snipes were not only inaccurate and unfair, they are downright misguided.
Today’s network of seven dozen career and technical centers in Ohio — including the Valley’s Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, Trumbull Career and Technical Center, Columbiana Career and Technical Center and the Choffin Career and Technical Center — have come of age. They increasingly place a premium on training bright young students in highly skilled, technical, marketable and highly sought-out trades. As a result, interest in attendance has skyrocketed.
In Mahoning County, for example, MCCTC Superintendent John Zehentbauer said the school is flooded with applications. The school has 600 new applicants but space for only about 430 in its 21 programs. In Trumbull County, TCTC Superintendent Jason Gray said enrollment has gone through the roof as well.
Given those clear trends, we were pleased earlier this year when Gov. Mike DeWine proposed a major boost for career and tech education in his 2024-2025 biennial budget proposal. At first glance, the increases look staggering, but they really only respond to the meteoric rise in interest and need for cutting-edge career education in our state.
One aspect of DeWine’s proposal would spend $102.2 million on special key CTE (career technical education) programs in fiscal year 2024, 264 percent more than the $28 million spent on them in fiscal 2022.
Of special note in the two-year proposal is the additional earmarking of $100 million of the total over two years for equipment for CTE schools and $200 million for new construction and expansion of them.
The Ohio General Assembly should give serious consideration and ultimate approval to the governor’s recommendation long before its June 30 deadline. State senators and House members should take note of the feedback the governor, first lady and lieutenant governor received on their fact-finding tour of CTE centers over the past year.
“When Fran and I and the lieutenant Governor were visiting these career centers, we would talk to the teachers and the superintendents about the different programs they offer. We would ask about the number of students enrolled, and so often, the teachers would tell us that more kids want to take the courses, but there are waitlists because there simply aren’t enough open spots,” DeWine said in his State of the State address this year. “In other cases, they told us they don’t have the most modern, up-to-date equipment needed to teach certain courses.”
In addition to the funding boosts that Mahoning Valley CTE needs clearly justify, the governor’s budget recommendation also includes three valuable objectives to better ensure such spending is fiscally responsible.
First, an analysis of credentials Ohio employers demand and those that students actually earn are significantly out of whack. Only 20 percent of credentials earned by the Class of 2020 in Ohio were considered “in demand,” according to a study conducted by Lightcast, a labor analytics organization and published by the Thomas Fordham Institute. Sixty-eight percent of the state’s credentials lack “meaningful labor market demand,” the study concluded. That’s why the governor’s objective to substantially increase “in-demand” programs be a cornerstone of the funding boost.
The budget recommendation also calls for more work-based learning in which students gain credits for on-the-job training pursued in tandem with their school curriculum. It also calls for schools to develop more locally focused partnerships.
Both of these goals clearly have merit as well. In the Valley, the partnership between the Youngstown State University Excellence Training Center and the four CTE schools in the Valley already is bringing terrific opportunities for the growing cadre of high schoolers pursuing education in the lucrative field of advanced manufacturing.
Career-focused education also makes particularly good sense locally and in Ohio. From the $100 billion Intel Chip plant under construction near Columbus to the Ultium Cells, Foxconn and other companies sparking our “Voltage Valley,” skilled-trades job opportunities are plentiful and on a trajectory of growth.
And, let’s face it. Not everyone desires to pursue four years of largely classroom-focused learning in college or university.
Their vocational or technical skills are needed just as much — if not more in many cases — to keep our economy humming.
Frankly, if we want to continue to be a world leader in manufacturing and new technology, we must ensure our workforce is ready and able.
That requires solid investment in youth and in the education they receive. And that’s why DeWine’s proposed investment in career and technical education over the next two years in Ohio warrants sweeping bipartisan support in our state Legislature.
Sandusky Register. April 20, 2023.
Editorial: Bullying Ohio’s constitution
The Ohio General Assembly looks to us like an endless train derailment more than a deliberative, responsible legislative body.
That sinking-in-the-gut feeling grows day after day, week by week and over the years as the Ohio Republican Party builds its power base on a gerrymandered super-majority that delivers just as promised: A broken legislature too weak to be effective in addressing the serious business before it.
If you watch committee hearings or view them at the general assembly’s homepage, on bill after bill, friendly witnesses aren’t challenged and often lack credentials, and opposing witnesses are often cut off.
This past week, it was even more extreme on a proposal to change how Ohio’s state constitution can be amended. The GOP leadership shut down a hearing without hearing fully from the opposition and successfully pushed for a vote.
Given their gerrymandered super-majority, they’re skipping the hard parts of democracy — again, on bill after bill — because they can. It is a dangerous, undemocratic trend that is getting worse. Deliberative bodies are meant to deliberate, debate and, yes, compromise, but with a super-majority, Republicans are flexing their muscles and skipping that important step.
Our local representatives personally supported their own gerrymandered districts that all but guarantee them re-election. They did that despite state constitutional law that outlawed the practice of gerrymandering, which is akin to stacking a deck.
Our own representatives also are getting behind the proposal to change how the state’s constitution can be amended, expanding voter approval from a simple majority to a super-majority of 60%. And, they want it on the ballot in an August special election, knowing full well that is when the fewest number of voters will cast ballots.
A special election will cost Ohio taxpayers $20 million. It’s improper to the point of being obscene to support spending that money for their own political objectives.
State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, and state representatives D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, and Gary Click, R-Vickery, are joining other Republicans in the statehouse supporting the effort. Statements from Gavarone and Swearingen in support of this wacky math are particularly self-serving, bereft of principle.
Swearingen provided a pithy statement.
“For me, I view our constitution as a fundamental document of our state that should not be changed on a whim. We should be legislating in the state legislature, not the constitution,” he said.
But it was Republicans this past week who cut off legitimate testimony and voted it forward without a proper or robust review. Our gerrymandered guy in Columbus claims he wants to hear from the people, but he’s overlooking or refusing to acknowledge the irony of saying he supports one thing but votes in an opposite fashion. He doesn’t like “whims,” but “hurry up, let’s get this passed now.”
Gavarone, for her part, also suggested the vote was about the state’s constitution, but she also revealed what it’s really about.
“This is about protecting the integrity of our Constitution. I am un-apologetically pro-life,” said our gerrymandered state senator.
At least she’s being straight about the real motive and acknowledging, effectively, that it’s OK to cheat the rules or change the rules, by any means necessary, when it comes to things she believes even if others — the majority — do not share her view.
The process to change the state’s constitution has been the same for 111 years. There is no legitimate argument for changing it now, especially in this rigged way. Republicans who support this are pretending to be champions of the people, when they are really undercutting them.