By The Associated Press
The Cleveland Plain Dealer. November 5, 2023.
Editorial: Needed: statewide conversation on Ohio’s ongoing privatization of education funding
The General Assembly’s decision this year to greatly expand eligibility for private school vouchers — costing taxpayers more than a quarter-billion dollars and counting — has awoken many Ohioans to a process ongoing for years: the slow but gradual switch in Ohio taxpayer dollars from public schools to private and parochial ones.
Ostensibly, this was to improve parental choice and give kids in failing schools more options. That’s how it started. But the eye-popping amounts should prompt a closer look and broader conversation with all Ohioans about the implications of this change. Especially since the private and parochial schools getting these larger sums are not subject to the same requirements of transparency about outcomes, spending and nondiscrimination, or the need to accept all applicants, as public schools are.
Such a broad dialogue with parents, taxpayers and other stakeholders — via public hearings in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, perhaps — is especially critical since this transformation has developed gradually, often under the radar, for years.
It’s time to ask: What is the implication for the majority of Ohio kids still educated in public schools? Will it be the kids with parents who can work the system who end up in well-financed private schools while the poor, minorities, those with special needs, are relegated to underfunded public schools?
This conversation is urgently needed. Ohio’s elected officials need to work with schools and other stakeholders to make it happen, ideally via a range of means beyond regional public hearings.
Vouchers first surfaced in the 1995-1996 state budget limited to pupils in the Cleveland public schools. The Cleveland voucher plan was engineered by General Assembly Republicans spearheaded by the late Rep. William G. Batchelder, of Medina, a leading Ohio conservative. In 2002, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Cleveland voucher program, 5-4.
Today, including what’s known as the Cleveland Scholarship Program, there is a range of Ohio school-voucher programs statewide. Their steady expansion has drawn pupils away from traditional public schools – and school funding hinges on a school’s enrollment.
According to Vouchers Hurt Ohio, a coalition of school districts fighting vouchers, “The program has grown from $42 million in 2008 to more than $350 million” in 2020-21. (Among scores of districts belonging to Vouchers Hurt Ohio are Cleveland Heights-University Heights; Fairview Park; Olmsted Falls; Richmond Heights; Shaker Heights; and Warrensville Heights.)
Now, as cleveland.com’s Laura Hancock reported, the state is already on the hook for almost $240 million – money that might otherwise go to public schools – thanks to an expansion of private school tuition vouchers the General Assembly approved earlier this year. And that’s just so far. Another 46,000 applications for the expanded voucher program are still being processed. That could run up the total voucher outlay to more than the $398 million legislators have allotted.
All told, counting all four state voucher programs, Legislative Service Commission analysts estimate that state spending on voucher programs this fiscal year will “total $964.5 million” — “an increase of $369.6 million (62.1%)” over last fiscal year, and will reach $1.05 billion in the year beginning July 1, 2024.
The vouchers are popular. But Ohioans need to consider a much-used Statehouse figure of speech: Is there a level playing field between the obligations state law imposes on public schools and the lighter burdens it imposes on nonpublic schools?
As an example, public schools are generally required to admit all applicants; nonpublic schools are not. That is, private schools can be selective, with obvious implications for test scores and other (assumed) metrics of a school’s academic performance.
Moreover, a public school pupil who leaves a public school for a private school doesn’t reduce the public school’s fixed costs.
Of course, some of the assorted gripes about public schools are the result of Ohio’s erratic funding of them. For now, at least, the General Assembly, by implementing (if too slowly) the Cupp-Patterson school funding reform, is helping address some of those shortcomings. But arguably what the state gives with one hand (via Cupp-Patterson) it undermines with the other by the huge boost in funding for school vouchers.
Considering that most young Ohioans attend the state’s public schools, the parents who care for those children, and the taxpayers who fund their schooling, need to be part of a frank discussion. They need to hear from lawmakers and the governor about school choice, and the degree to which it is a plus or minus in an every-more-diverse nation and an ever-more-skills-demanding workforce, and world.
Toledo Blade. November 2, 2023.
Editorial: Ohio shows need
Ohio should serve as the cautionary tale that supports surprising legislation to take corporate money out of politics.
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) proposes legislation to overturn part of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that holds business interests have freedom of speech rights just like individuals and can express those rights through unlimited, undisclosed, political contributions.
This is the method FirstEnergy used to funnel $61 million to a political action committee devoted to electing Larry Householder as speaker of the Ohio House in order to enact bailout legislation worth $1.3 billion to the giant utility.
Senator Hawley proposes legislation that would ban publicly traded corporations from making independent political expenditures, giving money to political action committees, or engaging in electioneering communication.
Taking secret corporate campaign cash out of U.S. elections is an issue that transcends political party or ideological position.
The conservative Republican Hawley and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), a Democratic Socialist, are both behind the move to curtail corporate political power. Moreover, President Biden has promised to make legislation overturning Citizens United a priority.
The narrow scope of Senator Hawley’s bill, restricted to publicly traded corporations, is more likely an attack on woke cancel culture than a plan to curtail corporate corruption.
But whatever the motivations, the proposed bill overlays as a perfect defense against the crime that rocked Ohio’s Statehouse.
Ohio is not unique in the widespread use of corporate-funded dark money political action committees. According to the national campaign monitor organization OpenSecrets, 2,475 independent PACs spent $1.3 billion on the 2022 elections.
Without federal law, the states’ only protection is the ability to require disclosure of the source of funds. Despite a classic corruption scandal with convictions secured under statutes enacted to go after Mafia bosses, Ohio lawmakers have done nothing to reform a demonstrably corrupt process.
Perhaps providentially, Ohio is represented in the Senate by a conservative Republican in J.D. Vance and a liberal Democrat in Sherrod Brown.
Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Vance have first-hand knowledge from Ohio’s shameful experience with unlimited, secret, corporate campaign money, and they can see the lack of state-level reform. That should compel them to support a block on political business spending.
The “free speech” rights of FirstEnergy were used in a conspiracy to extract a huge windfall from Ohio citizens in 2019, when pleas were made to keep two northern Ohio nuclear power plants open. The misuse of corporate power went so far as to fund a plan to block state citizens from using their ballot repeal protection in the Ohio Constitution.
FirstEnergy paid a $230 million fine for contributions made as a bribe for policy and is facing shareholder lawsuits for the value destroyed by that illegal activity.
As the Ohio General Assembly is not acting on necessary reform legislation, we urge Senator Hawley to use Ohio’s disgrace as the example illustrating the need for new federal law.
Youngstown Vindicator. November 3, 2023.
Editorial: If it means better student outcome, don’t cling to past
When lawmakers can move government out of the way for employers, most of them jump to do so. The same should hold true for educators, as the folks in Columbus consider a bill that would change the way teacher evaluations are handled, as well as some contracts and school screening requirements.
“Just like businesses, schools also benefit by removing unnecessary and burdensome regulations while maintaining strong accountability measures,” Tom Perkins, of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators told the Ohio Capital Journal.
State Senate Education Committee members learned earlier this week that Senate Bill 168 would “reduce burdensome and unnecessary regulations, vest more decision-making back into local communities that know their students best, and better equip our school leaders to prepare our students for the future,” according to members of BASA, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, the Ohio School Boards Association, the Alliance for High Quality Education and the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators.
Among the changes would be allowing local school districts to develop their own framework for teacher evaluations, which would build on the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System in place now.
“Local control and smaller government are ideals toward which our state should aspire and this bill includes several small but meaningful steps in that direction,” Buckeye Valley Local Schools superintendent Paul Craft said. He also noted the system in use “can become more and more bureaucratic and bogged down in teacher contract language and such.”
If education professionals truly believe the changes outlined in SB168 would improve teacher performance and student outcome, there must be no clinging to the way things have always been done, or bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake. Get out of the way. And then, look for ways in which a similar removal of “unnecessary and burdensome regulations” could benefit industries across the Buckeye State.