November 21, 2016 3:25 pm

The Day the SUPERs Came to the Ohio Statehouse

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By Jeanne Melvin, President of the Board of Public Education Partners

The Ohio Legislature’s ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) majority has been actively pushing legislation geared towards privatizing Ohio public schools for quite a while, drastically reducing state funding while diverting taxpayer dollars away from local public school districts to charter schools and other for-profit education companies. Gov. John Kasich, an ALEC alumnus, strategically took control of the state Board of Education by appointing many advocates of “school choice” to the Board, and he continues to micro-manage the school privatization agenda from the governor’s office.

Ohio parents, educators, and other public education advocates have been speaking out against the many pieces of the privatization movement, such as high-stakes testing, ever-expanding vouchers, and unaccountable charter schools. Public Education Partners (PEP), a non-profit organization dedicated to the support of publicly accountable schools for all, was formed as a statewide umbrella structure to help unite the growing numbers of advocacy groups that believe in public education and fight to protect it.

PEP and others encourage the use of social media, education summits, rallies, and other events to empower Ohioans to lobby their legislators and the state school board.

Advocates are also encouraged to attend local school board meetings to speak with school district leaders to get them involved in actions that will create public awareness about their great loss of local tax dollars for the benefit of for-profit education companies. School leaders are asked to come together as an educated and experienced coalition to collaborate with lawmakers in educational policy-making.

According to Bill Phillis, of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding:

Governors and legislators should depend heavily on boards of education and their employees when formulating education policy. Prior to the last three decades, school personnel had substantial and consequential involvement in education policy formulation. Since the early 1990s in Ohio, governors and legislatures have depended more heavily on edicts from Washington, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), anti-public education think tanks and major foundations such as Gates and the Walton family for advice and direction in education policy development. Currently, ODE does not encourage local school leaders to frequent the Statehouse. 

Many local school district superintendents have formed coalitions to address the problems caused by the Ohio House and Senate’s poorly developed educational legislation, but other leaders were a little slow to commit. They must not have realized what a powerful force they could be if they were invited to sit as a united group at the table with their elected leaders.

Things changed the day that the SUPERs came to the Ohio Statehouse.

Dalton Summers, Superintendent of Ohio’s River View Local Schools, had said:

Being a school administrator often feels more like it’s about complying with state and federal mandates, rather than coming up with the best policies on a local level.

We want to be involved in the process, not just left to figure out how to comply.

Ohio’s local school superintendents became involved by coming to Columbus for a School Superintendents’ Public Education Rally at the Statehouse on November 15th. The SUPERs were joined by a crowd of 400 school board members, school personnel, parents, and other concerned citizens asking that educational leaders be involved in the formulation of school policy.

It was a great day for a rally, and what a rally it was! There was very little shouting and picketing- just a collegial group of grassroots advocates and education professionals assembled as a united front that was concerned about the damage being done by poorly developed education policies and willing to help correct the problems.

The event, organized by Jim Lloyd, Superintendent of Olmsted Falls City School District, featured five speakers, representing each part of Ohio, who talked about three main concerns:

1) The current graduation point system created by the Ohio Department of Education will arbitrarily lower the graduation rates of the class of 2018 and beyond.

2) The continual expansion of Ohio’s educational assessment system has led to an over-emphasis on standardized testing which negatively impacts the focus of classroom instruction.

3) Inconsistent and unreliable fluctuations on achievement and value-added/student growth measures reported in Ohio’s Report card need to be addressed.

The gathering was meant to send a message to the Ohio Department of Education and to legislators that local school superintendents want to work with their stakeholders, constituent groups, and Ohio’s elected leaders to fix a graduation and state reporting system that is currently in need of great repair.

Public education advocates were very encouraged that such a large number of Ohio’s local school leaders collectively asked to be engaged in the formulation of education policy.

Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding’s Bill Phillis said:

Reengagement of local school district leaders is essential for the improvement of public education and for ending the encroachment of the privatization of public education. The privatizers, along with their charter school allies and political minions have had a stranglehold on public education policy for about two decades. This Rally was the first step to returning public policy regarding education back to the professionals who are on the front line of educating children on a daily basis.

That beautiful November day is destined to be the turning point in returning public education policy-making to experienced education professionals.

That’s the day the SUPERs came to the Ohio Statehouse.