Over the weekend Ohio's largest education organization concluded its three-day annual conference in downtown Cleveland The Ohio Federation of Teachers has 53 local affiliates statewide, including Cleveland. Laying out its agenda for the coming year, OFT officials made it clear the group hasn't abandoned the battle over equity in the schools. ideastream's Bill Rice reports.
Cleveland and other city school systems say their effort to meet school improvement expectations are being thwarted at every turn. It's not just budget cuts, which recently stripped Cleveland alone of $4 million. It's rather a culmination of legislative and legal decisions, they say, that hamstring school improvement efforts - tougher accountability measures, delayed action on the DeRolph school funding case, the Cleveland school voucher decision, a loosening of charter school restrictions, to name a few. Ohio Federation of Teachers President Tom Mooney lays the blame squarely at the feet of the Republican party.
Tom Mooney: It seems to have been taken over by the far right, certainly that's who's got the leverage. It's still really a minority within it's own party, but you really wouldn't know that from the legislation that gets made. It's like the tail wagging the dog.
But OFT does have a sympathetic ear in Republican Robert Gardner, who spoke to ther group Friday. A 28-year teaching veteran and Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Gardner is critical of many of his party colleagues - especially those on the house side.
Robert Gardner: What's happening is we have people that are sending over things from the house that are intellectually dishonest and fiscally irresponsible.
Gardner points to the budget bill of this past March, which cut roughly a hundred million dollars from public education statewide. He says there's little understanding of the challenges poor school districts face, and is quick to point out why.
Robert Gardner: I blame it on term limits. There's no one there to say hey, I remember what it was like back in '82 when things were tough. I remember what it was like in the '90s when things were tough and we had to re-group.
Regarding charter schools, which draw on public tax dollars but are privately run, Gardner has mixed feelings. He agrees with the concept of providing choice to parents, but is critical of a charter school bill passed last year. Several oversight provisions that he added to it were ultimately rejected by the house. But he sees some good in the charter school movement. OFT does not. The union's Tom Mooney says charter schools are profit-driven and unfairly drain money from traditional public schools.
House republicans defend their budget decisions. Prior to last week's passage of the 2004-2005 budget proposal, Finance Committee member Ed Husted called education a priority. But, he said, it's tough when you don't have enough money to run the government.
Ed Husted: In some cases we're deciding whether or not to operate a child care program for working parents, or continuing to provide medicaid coverage for dental and podiatry services. We understand that these are tough decisions, and we're trying to make these decisions that least impact people where it matters most.
OFT's Tom Mooney says the union will step up efforts to court more moderate Republicans like Robert Gardner in the coming year. He says a lawsuit challenging the state's charter school system is also at the top of its agenda. Other priorities include changing the state report cards to reflect year-to-year school improvement, addressing high drop-out rates, and better union organizing.