In a bald-faced attempt to snatch the Worst Sonsabitches In State Government award away from other contenders, Ohio's legislature used swift maneuvering and slick lawmaker tricks to help their Department of Education move forward in the process of giving public education away to privateers.
The Ohio Legislature's love of charters and privatization is the stuff of legends. Juliet looks at it and tells Romeo, "Why can't you love me that much?" In this legislative news, we find a carefully-buried earmark to hand $4 million to Teach for America. Even more impressive, GOP legislators killed a charter reform bill that was actually supported by many pro-charter folks such as the Fordham Institute. Even the head of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools liked most of the bill. But the GOP killed it anyway, because they'll be damned if anybody is going to handicap Ohio's quest for the award of State with Worst Charter Schools in America.
But all of that pales to the shenanigans attached to House Bill 70.
This bill started out as an innocuous piece of legislation aimed at helping schools become community learning centers. When it came up in the House the first time back in May, it passed 92 to 6. It went to the Senate this week, and that's when the shenanigans began again.
According to the Akron Beacon, on Wednesday, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers was ready to testify in favor of the bill when she heard about an amendment to be attached at the last minute which would allow for state takeover of schools.
When it came time for her to speak, she attempted to oppose the new
provision, but was told that the amendment had not yet been offered, so
she could not address it.
She sat down. The amendment was introduced and four men in line behind
her who had traveled from Youngstown stepped up to give favorable
The bill was then passed and sent back to the House where it passed-- this time 55 to 40.
Within twelve hours of seeing the light of day, the amended bill was on Governor John Kasich's desk. His office thinks the bill is awesometastic, blah blah save kids from failing schools blah blah. I keep waiting for someone supporting one of these bills to mess up his talking points and say that it's great we're saving children from democracy.
If we go to look at the bill (link here) we find much that seems familiar. Under the law, the state will take over a distressed school and turn it over to the Academic Distress Commission, who will hire a CEO to run the school. That CEO, who will serve at the pleasure of the commission, "shall have high-level management experience in the public or private sector" and "shall exercise complete operational, managerial and instructional control."
Creating Achievement School District style takeover mechanisms is always bad news for public education, but the installation of this law as a fast-tracked amendment to an unrelated bill really sets a new level of slimy, but it only looks worse upon examination-- Doug Livingston of the Akron Beacon reports that the Ohio Department of Education has been working on this for months.
While it is expected that Youngstown schools will be the first to be hit by this, Lorain (where I had my first teaching job) is also looking down the barrel of this mugger's gun. And the law is not specific or targeted-- it potentially applies to any district in the state that doesn't hit its numbers enough years in a row.
A list follows, and when they say complete control., they aren't kidding. The CEO can hire, fire, set salaries, set schedules, set the school calendar, determine the school configuration of grades, set curriculum, change any board-set policies, and of course, hire contractors to run things. There are more items on the list, and the CEO's powers are not limited to the list, but if it all gets too much for him, he may choose to delegate "specific powers or duties to the district board or district superintendent."
So the elected school board and district superintendent aren't completely dissolved-- they just work for the new unelected CEO. Think of it as the Roman Empire Management Model.
Speaking for the Ohio Weaselly Department of Education:
“Bottom line,” Charlton said, “is that it is not fair to the students
and parents who trust their schools to provide for their educations, the
local educators and community leaders who have played by the system’s
rules, or the communities whose futures depend on educated, skilled
citizens. It’s time for a change. Kids in academically struggling
schools can’t wait any longer; we need to make immediate improvements to
the support system.”
He did not go on to add
"That is why we've spent months planning how to circumvent the entire
democratic process and cut public ed off at the knees before anybody
could raise a fuss."
My favorite quote from Livingston's piece?
Sen. Michael Skindell of Lakewood said of the potential for the
program to spread. “It seems to incentivize students to go from a
failing public school to a failing charter school.”
He added: “Gosh, I wish we would be moving as fast on the failing charter schools in this state.”
The Beacon-journal has done some previous work looking at the effect of charters on public schools, discovering that-- surprise-- the better students use choice (open enrollment, they call it in Ohio) to get out of places like Youngstown schools, leaving the least desirable students in a system being drained of resources, creating a larger scale "failure" in those districts.
Well, open enrollment was already draining those districts of money, but now the plucky educrats of the ODE have found a way to let someone squeeze the last drops of profit out of the husk of the public school system. Ohio's legislature remains committed to making the Buckeye State a paradise for privatizers, even if they have to subvert democracy to do it.