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Lepore-Hagan should keep House seat

Editor’s note: This opinion piece has been edited to correct spending per student figures for Youngstown City Schools and the state average obtained from the Ohio Department of Education. The original editorial included larger figures obtained from Public School Review.

The two candidates facing off in the Ohio House 58th District representative race bring vastly different ideas to the table.

Democratic incumbent Michele Lepore-Hagan, 65, of Youngstown, is seeking her fourth term in Columbus. If re-elected, this would be her final term due to term limits. She lists education as among her highest priorities, and said she is not giving up on efforts to repeal House Bill 70, the “Youngstown Plan” that took state control from local boards of education, such as the Youngstown Board of Education, that are overseeing districts failing academically.

When asked for her ideas on improving academic performance in Youngstown, Lepore-Hagan quickly responded to our editorial board that the school district needs more money.

“We are not addressing what we need to address, and how do we make it better? We work with teachers and parents, and we allocate more funds, and we take it more seriously,”

Lepore-Hagan said.

Indeed, this is a serious issue that requires attention and focus. It does need collaborative efforts among teachers and families. However, we do not believe increased allocations are the answer.

In fact, the Youngstown City School District already spends among the highest amount per student in the state of Ohio. Youngstown City Schools spends $12,419 per student, according to the Ohio School Report Cards issued by the state Department of Education. By comparison, Ohio’s average is $9,883. And yet, the school district still struggles academically. That tells us that funding is not the problem nor necessarily the solution.

While we do not believe the state takeover of the school district is working, we also do not believe throwing more money at the problem is the right answer.

Meanwhile, we also question the thought process and radical education suggestions put forth by Lepore-Hagan’s challenger, Republican David Simon.

Simon, 58, of Youngstown, previously unsuccessfully challenged Lepore-Hagan for her seat in 2018.

Like Lepore-Hagan, Simon also does not support House Bill 70. He says teachers should be held accountable for educating their students, and that should be done in a collaborative evaluation system involving the administration, families, the state, the courts and the teachers themselves. He also proposes eliminating “high stakes” testing.

As far as education funding goes, he also proposes eliminating property taxes that largely fund school districts in Ohio. He believes collaborations should be formed between the district and business or skilled trades that ultimately would fund the school districts. In exchange for helping companies and skilled trades connect with students — potential future labor — the businesses would simply donate money that would fund school operations.

While we always encourage fresh ideas — and especially ways to reduce taxes — we have a difficult time envisioning how Simon’s idea would come to fruition or, if it did, how it would be sustainable.

Other priorities Simon lists include economic development, particularly in brownfield areas of the Mahoning Valley. He says he would encourage development simply by reaching out to business and being accessible. He also wants to improve safety. He would do this by working with law enforcement to increase visibility. He said he strongly opposes any efforts to defund police.

Simon’s thinking on these issues seems naive and simplistic.

Lepore-Hagan, meanwhile, listed specific goals and priorities, such as passing a universal vote-by-mail system in Ohio. She also wants to establish new protections for Ohioans who are being taken advantage of by what she describes as abuses in the land-contract industry.

Lepore-Hagan’s approach to issues falls in line with liberal agendas. While her stance is more left-leaning than we generally tend to support, we do believe that she has made herself available and accessible to her constituents, and has done her best to serve their needs and requests.

Lepore-Hagan also has proven that she works well with her colleagues in Columbus.

As such, she deserves an opportunity to return to Columbus. We endorse Lepore-Hagan to keep her Statehouse seat.

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