Upwards of 800 people attended a forum on public school funding held at the Boardman Performing Arts Centre on Monday night, as several speakers said that public education, a cornerstone of the Democracy, could be stifled by the growing number of charter schools in the state of Ohio.
If that happens, public school teachers could be left with the job of educating the ‘worst of the worst,’ Dr. Kern Alexander, distinguished professor from the University of Illnois, said.
Dr. Alexander shared his views, along with speakers from around the state of Ohio, including Steve Dyer, education policy fellow for Innovation Ohio; former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Dr. Richard Murray, superintendent of the Muskingum Valley Educational Service Center (ESC); and longtime public school advocate William Phillis, now serving as executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding.
Mr. Dyer, a former member of the Ohio House of Representatives, said some $771 billion dollars of taxpayer money has been siphoned away from the public education system in Ohio and given to charter schools.
The Boardman Local School District, Mr. Dyer said, annually receives $1266 in state subsidies for each of its 4600 students.
He said that 95 children in the Boardman Local School District attend charter schools that annually receive $7173 per student in state aid.
“In the Mahoning Valley, 95 per cent of the student population attends traditional public schools,” Mr. Dyer said, noting the five per cent attending charter schools get $44 million in state funds that previously went to the public schools.
“Legal measures have been exhausted. It’s up to a grassroots effort to change this disparity,” Mr. Dyer said.
Dr. Murray said there is “no other institution in America that affects the future of the country like public education.” He said the forces working against public education include choice schools, the voucher system, merit pay and privatization.
Dr. Alexander said that charter and private schools “violate the democracy.
“They do not provide real choice...They discriminate based on gender and special needs...Vouchers and charter schools prevent children from having expanded choices,” Dr. Alexander said.
Acknowledging a quote from Aristotle, Dr. Alexander concluded “Education should be one and the same for everyone...and should be public.”
Mr. Phillis has spent four decades supporting public education and helped to overturn Ohio’s school funding formula that had favored inner city districts.
“The public school system is the only system that has the potential to bring all students together to be Americans,” Mr. Phillis opined, adding “Without public education, you lose the democracy.”
He also suggested a lack of community control over charter schools.
“When you funnel education to the charter [schools], the communities have no governance,” Mr. Phillis said.
Gov. Strickland suggested special interests control the decisions on public school funding, including a man who has made millions operating charter schools in Ohio, Mr. David Brennen, of Akron.
“We are approaching a tipping point...Public education made this country what it is today...the collective will of the people will support a system available to all,” Gov. Strickland said, advising “We’ve got to decide if our kids are worth fighting for.”
Not everyone at Monday evening’s forum thought it was all about public education funding.
One gentleman, who said he was from South Range Local School District, decried the forum as nothing more the Ohio Education Association lobbying effort designed to spotlight Democratic Party politics.