Ohio's Charter Schools: Part IV
State Board of Education Advocacy
Barbara Brothers, PhD
The role of the State Board of Education, as defined in the Ohio Constitution, is to provide leadership, standards development, monitoring, and advocacy for the public common school system.
A major contributor to Ohio's problem is that the State Board of Education is no longer an entirely elected body and does not see its mission as defined under the 1953 Constitutional provision and its enabling legislation as an independent state-level governing body: At present it would seem that a majority are charter school advocates, ideology and politics trumping Constitutional responsibilities.
Doug Livingston and several journalism interns with The News Outlet, a consortium formed by the University of Akron and Youngstown State University, recently interviewed the members of the State Board of Education (November 2013 in the Akron Beacon Journal). Some members' statements reflect a pro-education choice bias and an antagonism toward the public common school system. Criticisms of the public education system include "overregulation," need for "educational opportunities [which] means publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools," a need to stick with the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and lack of "choice" and "competition." So instead of choosing to reduce regulations for public schools that are "overregulated," they instead work to create a new system that has no regulation.
While some members of the State Board of Education are "vociferously advancing the state administration's pro-charter school and voucher agenda," others recognize the responsibility of the board to address its mission: One current state board member reflected that "First and foremost, we do not yet have a state funding formula that is reflective of the total responsibility of the state to educate its children and we have way too much of a financial burden on local property owners and it creates a significant imbalance of haves and have-nots, and the type of education that kids get, in many ways and many times, is reflective of their zip code."
Questions of ethics and conflicts of interest continue to plague the Board. The first Superintendent of Education that John Kasich appointed, Stan Hefner, had to resign because of ethics violations. Most recently, Bryan Williams resigned from the Board. Governor Kasich had appointed Williams to a vacant elected seat on the state school board in 2011. According to his resignation letter, ethics rules apply only to elected board members. Because Williams was an appointed official, state law allowed him to file exemptions that permitted him to simultaneously serve in a public position while still advocating for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio, a consortium of private construction companies. When Williams won election in 2012, the exemption no longer applied, as he resumed office as an elected member. Just like Charters, there are two sets of rules—one private and exempt from the laws and one elected or public that does have to obey the laws (December 9, 2013 in the The News Outlet).
While sitting in a position to influence state regulation on the school board, Williams lobbied the legislature, numerous state agencies. and the governor's office on issues that affect school funding and school regulation to the benefit of his non-union contractors group, including a program that would have allowed companies to receive high school students and state money for privately run apprenticeship programs. As with the State Superintendent of Education, there is no expectation that criminal charges will be pursued just as in the case with data scrubbers: If you are a public school employee, expect to be charged under the law; if not, just resign and keep your money.
Other officials overseeing the money that is to flow to K-12 public education reflect their biases, if not their pocketbooks, when making decisions. According to a report in the May 13 Gongwer, 21 charter schools that received low scores on an independent review of applications for Straight A Funding will get the benefit of another review by the Ohio Department of Education. Straight A Funding Governing Board member Representative Andy Brenner (who recently made news by advocating privatization of the public school system) wondered if the reviewers were biased against charter schools.
Jan Resseger, who writes a blog all Ohioans interested in education should read, finds it incredible that "despite all their evidence that such school choice has brought neither access, nor opportunity, nor coordinated services, nor quality oversight," many still argue that "traditional public schools are something that society needs to get away from and parents must have the right to escape." She wonders, "Why refuse even to consider that traditional public education—with the advantages of a coherent and coordinated system of services and a long and growing history of oversight to protect school quality, financial stewardship, equal access, and equal opportunity—may be the best kind of school governance to serve the needs and protect the rights of the greatest number of children" (July 30, 2014).
The most significant change that has resulted from the introduction of so-called school choice is a culture shift to accepting graft and corruption in education as well as in politics. We might say that the value of education has been replaced by the value of money. No Improvements! No transparency! Professionalism replaced with rhetoric and promises and profits! "So long as the charter industry buys favoritism from state legislatures, as long as amateurs win public dollars to run inferior schools, as long as virtual charter schools get rich while supplying poor results, there will continue to be critics—and should be."