A few years ago, I got a call about 9 p.m. from one of Gov. John Kasich’s aides. He told me the Ohio Senate was voting the next morning on a plan to “help” kids in Youngstown City Schools. The problem was that I had never seen the bill.
So I got in my car and headed to Columbus. I wanted to read this “Youngstown Plan” to prepare the Senate Democratic Caucus for the upcoming vote. I spent the night reviewing the 66-page bill, only to find that the word “Youngstown” wasn’t in it at all. Not once.
Instead, the “plan” laid out what many education experts viewed as the most aggressive school takeover they’d seen pass through any chamber in the country. It allowed a “person with high-level management experience in the public or private sector” to run certain school districts entirely on their own – even if they had no education experience.
This “CEO” could privatize schools, close schools permanently and break teachers’ contracts with no requirement that he/she take input from anyone in the community.
I could see in just a few hours that this massive state takeover bill was dangerous. And I wasn’t alone. The bill narrowly passed the next day, with five Republicans joining Democrats to vote “no.” Some senators voted “no” because they hadn’t had a chance to read the bill. Others called it “un-American’’ because elected school board members were going to be stripped of their decision-making power with one stroke of the pen.
I believe a state “takeover” is a lazy solution to Ohio’s longstanding and worsening problem of poverty and its effect on student success. Youngstown was the first to go down this road, but we won’t be the last. Lorain City Schools have just received their CEO, and others are soon to follow.
Despite concerns from both sides, the “Youngstown Plan” was signed into law. At this point, there is no use dwelling too much on the past. Instead, I’m focused on a better future.
I met with Youngstown’s CEO, Krish Mohip, immediately after he was selected. I let him know I wanted him to succeed and, although I disagreed with the bill, I wanted to be helpful in any way I could. I also told Mr. Mohip that if I disagreed with him, I would make my feelings clear. I noted my concerns about the CEO’s complete power to make decisions that impact our kids.
Since then, Mr. Mohip and I have met multiple times. We both believe Youngstown students need an education that will give them a shot at success. We have agreed to keep talking and working together to improve our schools.
In the meantime, I have also been traveling the state working with administrators, teachers, parents, and students on a better approach to support kids from all corners of this state.
It is pretty clear that the current administration’s efforts on education aren’t working. Ohio slipped from fifth to 23rd in national rankings in just a few years.
The current governor and Statehouse leaders have allowed for-profit charter schools and e-schools to make millions of dollars while providing substandard education. The state has also placed too much emphasis on standardized tests, and we still haven’t addressed Ohio’s unconstitutional funding structure for public schools.
We need to fund schools properly, rein in for-profit charter schools, and expand career tech education, job readiness programs, and practical skills-based curriculums.
Every legislator and candidate for governor should take a trip to Cincinnati to see how that city is addressing poverty. They use a wraparound service model, which includes teachers, city officials, nonprofits, business owners and the community in education.
For example, they use city buses to transport kids before and after school to activities that keep them engaged and out of trouble. They have dentists, doctors, mentors and behavioral specialists in schools every day. Parents can also go to the schools and take classes or use these services.
The wraparound service model is amazing, and I believe it could work everywhere. People just need to see these ideas in action and encourage them in their own communities.
Youngstown has already started some similar programs by partnering with Youngstown State University (Project Pass) and the United Way (Taft Promise Neighborhood/Success After Six). These things work, and they can be vital in educating children in poverty.
In the end, every decision we make needs to be about our kids. If we keep that goal in mind, we can make real progress toward a better future for Ohio.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Ohio governor. He has served as minority leader in the Senate.