Next week, voters in numerous Ohio counties will render decisions on school levies that are most likely reappearing on the ballot. Such is the case at Graham. Although I have not lived on the western side of the county for almost fifty years, the Graham school district provided my educational roots and my professional home. Thus, I am particularly concerned about the levy there.
I first learned how financial problems can beset local boards of education during my last two years in high school. Difficulty in passing a renewal levy caused the elimination of extracurricular activities as a cost-cutting measure. I was most disappointed when our Student Council project to bring a foreign exchange student to GHS was cancelled.
When I later returned as a staff member, however, the unpredictable nature of school funding became a way of life. Graham administrators have always had to run a lean operation: I cannot even remember how often levies were run and rerun during my forty-year tenure.
For many years now, a handful of factors have traditionally impacted voter decisions on school levies all across the state. Not the least of them is Ohio’s method of funding public education, in 1997 deemed unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. Instead of remedying the situation, Ohio politicians have spent the intervening 22 years dreaming up a state report card to measure things I still do not completely understand and requiring a system of high-stakes testing that sucks the joy out of learning. Their efforts have resulted in ongoing unfunded mandates that further burden financially-strapped school districts.
Although the problem of “taxation without representation” was solved way back when state and federal legislators began determining the taxes required of citizens, the actual “say” we have often seems very far removed from us. Not so at the local level, the only step in government where we actually decide on our own taxes. Small wonder, then, that some folks exercise their right to reject taxes – including ones for schools.
And these yea-or-nay decisions may unfortunately stem from some negative school experience in the past, from some long-held belief or misunderstanding passed from one generation to the next, or from disagreement surrounding policies adopted or discontinued. Consequently, a referendum on school funding may actually become an avenue for general approval or disapproval of school programs.
With increasing frequency, there are also voters questioning their responsibility to support school funding because they have no children or their children have aged out of the public school system. They believe only those with kids should be required to participate in financing schools.
In response to these reasons for voting against local school funding initiatives, I propose there is one, single, overwhelming reason FOR funding our schools: the kids.
Should we vote against school funding to protest the unconstitutionality of Ohio’s system? What if it takes another 22 years to straighten it all out? Do we educationally shortchange another generation of kids just to make a point? I believe we should instead say yes … for the kids.
Should we vote against school funding based on an unfortunate experience in our past or a difference of opinion? Is it fair to deny current students and those of the future a strong educational program because of a personal disagreement? I believe we should instead say yes … for the kids.
Should we vote against school funding because we have no children in school? Who funded our educations? Educating youth everywhere is a shared public responsibility from which we all benefit in the positive or suffer in the negative. Financing schools is the ultimate example of paying it forward. Indeed, we should say yes … for the kids.
Instead of forcing our kids to shoulder a heavy burden not of their making, we should instead hold our leaders accountable for inequities and missteps. Our kids should be free to get on with learning.
We should not be “making do” in our schools: the classroom is no place to scrimp. We should be providing a topnotch education for all kids before they head out into the world. If we want them to succeed, if we are counting on them to eventually lead our nation forward, they deserve the best education we can give them in place of a second-rate preparation for life.
Our kids should be attending schools staffed by community members who care about them. They should be transported by bus drivers concerned for their safety. They should be surrounded by lunchroom personnel providing nutritional support and building custodians keeping facilities clean and safe. They should be assisted by secretaries and aides looking out for every child in general – and certain, special ones in particular.
And every kid should have the best possible teachers guiding them academically through challenging territory on the journey from childhood through adolescence into young adulthood. We need classroom leaders, experts in lesson preparation and presentation, with cutting edge knowledge and loving hearts.
Here is how one teacher says yes for kids every day:
Today I spent time with some very important people. I read a story to an electrician and sang the alphabet song with a nurse. I ate lunch with a pastor, taught a policeman how to tie his shoes, and introduced an assembly line worker to the color red. These important people? They are our precious children – and the hope of our very future.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.