On this the holiest day of Christianity, only the truth will set the Youngstown City School District free.
What is the truth? That the academic reforms put in place through House Bill 70 – the Youngstown Plan – will fall short so long as a large number of the city’s children continue to live in dysfunctional homes.
Therefore, HB70, enacted in 2015 by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by Republican Gov. John R. Kasich, must have a second phase.
Some cold, hard facts about Youngstown explain why the school system has been in such dire straits:
The population is on a downward trajectory and could fall below 60,000 after the 2020 national census.
A disturbingly large percentage of residents are on fixed incomes – pensions, Social Security, welfare – and do not pay the 2.75 percent income tax, one of the highest rates in the state of Ohio. Nonresidents working in the city are bearing the tax burden.
The median income for a family of four in Youngstown is $24,000. It is about double that in Mahoning County.
Blacks could well make up more than 50 percent of the population by the next census.
The unemployment rate among blacks is higher than the state average, and the jobless rate for young black males is among the highest in the nation.
The growing number of single-parent homes in Youngstown, especially in black neighborhoods, is a reflection of what is taking place nationally.
In 2012, a study titled “The Taxpayer costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing – First Ever Estimates for the Nation and All Fifty States” contended that family fragmentation costs American taxpayers a mind boggling $112 billion a year, or more than $1 trillion each decade.
The costs are tied to increased taxpayer expenditures for antipoverty, criminal justice and education programs, and through lower levels of taxes paid by individuals who, as adults, earn less because of reduced opportunities as a result of having been more likely to grow up in poverty.
The $112 billion breaks down as follows: $70.1 billion at the federal level; $33.3 billion at the state level; and, $8.5 billion at the local level.
Unfortunately, the cycle of poverty won’t end any time soon nationally.
But that’s doesn’t mean the situation in Youngstown is hopeless.
With urgently needed government intervention, Youngstown’s children could have a realistic chance of changing the course of their lives.
The governor would have to take the lead to launch the second phase of House Bill 70. After all, it was Kasich who decided shortly after taking office in January 2011 to make the recovery of the academically ailing Youngstown City School District a top priority for his administration.
Kasich urged a group of Mahoning Valley business and community leaders to come up with solutions to the myriad problems confronting the urban district.
Politicians were not invited to participate.
The local effort culminated in the restructuring of academically challenged school systems via House Bill 70.
While this year’s state report card will tell if the reforms implemented in Youngstown are working, the reality is that the city’s children will continue to struggle academically and socially so long as they are in harm’s way in their homes.
Fortunately, there is a solution: A boarding school chartered by the state of Ohio and run by a private organization.
Simply put, the at-risk children in Youngstown would have the chance of living in a caring and stable environment.
There is a clear distinction to be made between a boarding school and an orphanage.
Indeed, Gov. Kasich should assign a member of his administration to research the boarding school industry in this country.
That research will undoubtedly spotlight The SEEDS Public Charter School of Washington, D.C. It is the nation’s first college-preparatory, public boarding school.
According to its website, the mission is to provide “an outstanding, intensive educational program that prepares children, both academically and socially, for success in college and beyond.”
The school opened in 1998 and has 370 students in grades six through 12.
Students spend 120 hours a week on campus from Sunday through Friday.
“We offer a rigorous college preparatory curriculum which incorporates the appropriate mix of content areas, deep development of writing and critical thinking skills so that students are prepared for college level coursework,” the website states.
Students do not pay to attend.
Such an educational concept is a natural progression for House Bill 70, which the governor embraced.
The veteran Republican officeholder will be leaving state government at the end of the year, and a boarding school in Youngstown to save the city’s children from the cycle of poverty and hopelessness that is now a part of the social structure would be a lasting legacy.
To be sure, the establishment of such an institution would be a major departure from traditional public education in Ohio, but Kasich and the Republican majority in the General Assembly have shown a willingness to think outside the box.
HB 70 creates a special academic distress commission and established the position of chief executive officer.
The elected school board is relegated to an advisory role, while the superintendent works at the pleasure of the CEO.
The commission – three members are appointed by the state superintendent of education, one by the mayor of Youngstown and one by the president of the Youngstown Board of Education – hired Krish Mohip to serve as the first CEO of a public school system.
Mohip, a veteran educator from Chicago, has had to battle the school board, the teachers union and Democratic politicians who believe that power should be returned to the elected board members.
There must be no turning back.
The Youngstown Plan can succeed, but only if the children in the district are saved the trials and tribulations of daily living.
It’s impossible to learn if you’re surrounded by drug-addled adults in the home and crime on the streets.