A minority budget

One thing is clear now the language of the Governor's budget bill (HB59) is available. No matter how you look at it, it is a minority budget.

First and most obviously the bill will be crafted by the Republican dominated legislature, with little input or amendment from the Democrats. This will be despite the fact that voters just a few short months ago voted for Democrats in far larger numbers than Republicans. The Republican gerrymandering of the state legislature will give Republican members a very false sense of voter support.

That false sense of support is already evident in recent polling of the Governor's budget.

Among the poll’s key findings are:

  • 60% of Ohioans say public schools need more state funding to improve
  • 59% say Ohio is doing too little to improve the quality of public education
  • 62% say helping localities fund schools, fire and police is more important to them than reducing the state income tax
  • 62% favor raising Ohio’s severance tax on oil and natural gas to the Texas rate —and using the money to offset state budget cuts to local governments

It's clear then, that a party that received minority voter support only has minority support for its budget plans.

Finally, the reason these facts come into stark relief is because of the underlying policies - policies that enhance the welfare and benefit of a minority of Ohioans over the those of the majority.

On school funding:

  • The budget elevates private school vouchers and failing charter schools over traditional public schools, despite 90% of Ohio's students attending traditional public schools.
  • 382 of 612 school districts see no funding increase from the previous budgets baseline, which cut $1.8 billion - causing basic state aid to fall from $5,723 to a paltry $5,000.
  • Despite the Governor's promise that "the rich will get less and the poor will get more", his funding plan, where it does provide modest increases, does the exact opposite.
  • The Governor goes further, threatening that if reelected his next budget would eliminate $880 million in funding guarantees that some of the poorest school districts currently receive.

These are budget decisions that are not being forced on the Governor or his legislative allies, but are instead choices being made. These choices are being made in order to further support the minority over the majority in the form of massive tax breaks.

His proposed income tax cuts has the following effect

Plainly then, the Governor's budget prioritizes income tax cuts for the wealthy. This income tax reduction will equate to approximately $4.3 billion less in revenue to the state, resulting in less revenue to support key programs like education. Since May 2011, budget cuts to public schools have forced local districts to propose about $1.1 billion in new levies.

the legislature still has a lot of time to listen to the majority of Ohioans who want a more balanced approach to the budget than the minority one being proposed. Such balance would include restoration of funding to schools and communities, not cuts to these vital services that the majority rely upon. These investments will make our state stronger and more prosperous, and have a far greater long term positive impact than many of the minority provisions being proposed.

You can contact the Governor and ask that he take a more balanced approach that benefits everyone, not just the few.
Contact the Governor, here
Find and contact your legislator, here

Partisan purges

Fresh of their electoral defeats that produced a large majority thanks to partisan gerrymandering, the extremists in the Ohio House are not done with their partisan purging. Now they are going after the Ohio Accountability Task Force, according to a report in Gongwer

The task force, which first met in December 2003, was tasked with examining how to implement the value-added report card measure in ways that are most useful for improving student achievement, according to ODE documents.

With its name changed to the Ohio Accountability Advisory Committee, the panel's membership would see "substantial" changes including the removal of: the ranking minority members of the House and Senate education committees, a teachers union representative, a school district board of education member, and a school superintendent, Mr. Stebelton said.

It instead includes three members of the public each appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President, two appointed by the governor and one appointed by the state auditor, he said. The superintendent of public instruction would be a nonvoting member.

"It sounds like from this list that what's been removed from this group, from this board is representation of folks who have experience in education," Rep. Nickie Antonio (R-Lakewood) said.

When Republicans are questioning the merits of the partisan purge you know there must be something wrong. Rep Stabelton, who is sponsoring the legislation (HB555) revealed his partisan purpose when he had this to say

"This will work both ways. Someday when you get back in the majority, our people won't be on it and you folks will."

Of course, due to extreme gerrymandering, Rep Stabelton knows full well that Democrats can never be back in the majority no matter how many Ohioans vote for them. The other real problem with this ridiculous proposal was also repeatedly noted

She (Rep. Denise Driehaus) also raised issues with the lack of presence of local education officials on the panel. "As the committee stands now there are some guarantees that some local representative and folks with education backgrounds, people that are participating in our system now" will be on the committee.

The Ohio General Assembly needs more not less expertise advising it, they have been making an awful mess of education policy these last few years listening to partisans with no education expertise like Rep Stabelton.

Ohio House Dems won popular vote

Issue 2, also known as voters first was heavily defeated 63-37, under an avalanche of opposition money seeking to maintain the status quo. Had issue 2 been successful it would have given the ability of voters to pick their representatives, rather than the current gerrymandered reverse situation.

Just how bad is the current system of rigged districts? We took a look at the 99 Ohio house races. Our analysis found that despite the Democrats trailing republics in the new legislature 60-39, they actually won the popular vote.

Democrats received a total of 2,418,815 votes across the 99 house district and the Republicans only 2,362,310 - over 56,000 less. If districts were apportioned according to the weight of voters actually preference, the Democrats would have a majority of 51-48, not rendered all but impotent trailing 60-39.

The current situation is so untenable, even critics of issue 2 agree reforms are needed.

But a number of GOP critics of Issue 2 also agreed that the current redistricting process needs to be changed. So the big question now is: What happens next?

A bipartisan legislative redistricting task force has met a few times and is supposed to recommend changes to the House and Senate in December. Also, some say the Constitutional Modernization Commission should make redistricting one of its top priorities.

Catherine Turcer, chairwoman of Voters First Ohio, the coalition that pushed Issue 2, and Ohio State University election-law expert Daniel Tokaji, who helped draft the plan, said that at least there was agreement that the system needs to be changed.

“If we all agree that the system is broken, we should also agree that the people of Ohio should not have to wait until 2022 to fix it,” they said in a joint statement. “It’s time to put voters first and come together to agree on a solution.”

Gov. John Kasich added: “Reforms need to be considered in a thoughtful, bipartisan way to ensure that districts are competitive and fair and Ohioans’ interests are fully represented.”

These unfair districts also explain the disappointing results of races involving educators

But Stephen Brooks, a political scientist with the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron, says all that probably had little to do with the way the races turned out.

“They were not in well-designed districts for Democrats to run in so I’m not sure being a schoolteacher or not being a schoolteacher had much to do with that. They were having difficult races because they were running in non-competitive districts, if you will,” he says.

The only one of the new teacher-candidates to win is John Patterson, who will represent House District 99 in Ashtabula County. Two other former teachers who were incumbents retained their seats in the Ohio House.

A system where the majority of citizens are not represented by their preferred elected leaders is not a sustainable system. The current Ohio General Assembly, and the 130th that will follow it have no mandate from the voters, and their first course of action ought to be to repair the broken redistricting system immediately.

Voucher expansion pressure

There's some good news being reported today. It appears Columbus lawmakers have listened to the out-pouring of dissent at a number of the Governor's education policy proposals, and are considering changes and delays

Republican leaders in the Senate plan to slow down Gov. John Kasich’s initiatives for holding back third-graders who aren’t proficient in reading and for a tougher report-card rating system for schools and districts.

Under the Senate plan, new report cards would be issued by Sept. 1, 2013, for the 2012-13 school year, not this summer for the current school year. And the so-called reading guarantee would start in the 2013-14 school year, instead of this fall.
School district officials, teachers unions and state education groups have urged lawmakers to hold off on the plan so they can better inform parents and teachers of the coming changes.

Under the amendment, a new report-card rating system planned for this school year would be put off, and a task force would be established to provide recommendations to lawmakers by Oct. 1 about the new letter-grade rating system.

The new school rating proposal had come under specific attack, from many diverse groups, as it would have lowered the ratings on the majority of Ohio's schools. One of the unintended consequences of this would have been to expand the geographic eligibility of the state's private school voucher program

The EdChoice program could also see a significant change not only in the number of schools and students eligible for a voucher, but also where these schools are located under the newly proposed A-F system. Under the proposed A-F system more schools would be rated D and F, resulting in an increase in the number of eligible schools. Using performance data from 2010-11 the Ohio Department of Education ran a simulation to demonstrate how schools might fare under the new system (you can read more about the proposed A-F system here). Using that data 273 schools and approximately 105,000 students would now be eligible for the EdChoice program. A majority of eligible schools still remain in Big 8 districts but a couple of new districts such as Hamilton City and South Western City would now have eligible schools on the list under the new A-F system.

With the state's voucher program massively undersubscribed, expanding the geographic availability would be a boon to the profiteers and their advocates. Not something to be considered while there is a push for greater accountability for private schools that take tax payer funded vouchers.

Given the recent news of the Dragonfly Autism school suddenly shuttering its doors, there's never been a more urgent need for oversight and accountability of these types of schools

Dragonfly Academy, a local private school for autistic children, unexpectedly closed its doors Thursday morning amid allegations from parents that promised services were not being provided.

Parents were notified via text message from the school’s executive director, Brianne Bixby-Nightingale, at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday that the school would be closed Thursday and today for “restructuring,” several parents confirmed.

Dragonfly’s six-member board of directors apparently resigned last month.
Among the parents’ claims are that the school failed to provide required therapies and that it did not have enough qualified staff.

Gallaway confirmed Thursday that both of the school’s intervention specialists had quit.

Former Governor Ted Strickland recently blasted the expansion of Ohio's voucher program Strickland said Ohio's voucher program, which allows students in struggling districts to receive funding to attend private schools, is damaging the quality of Ohio public education.

"Vouchers simply is a way to enter into a private situation where the majority of our students are left behind and a few students may be able to benefit using public tax dollars and I think that's wrong and it's harmful to society," Strickland said.

It's good that lawmakers are now slowing down these corporate reforms and listening to stakeholders. We can only hope this proposed task force takes a long hard look at some of the unintended consequences of the Governor's ideas that might harm public education by increasing further the amount of unaccountable privatization.

Survey finds parent-teacher relationships strong--Teachers given grade of "A"

Parenting magazine and the National Education Association today announced the results of a groundbreaking joint survey* of 1,000 public school parents and educators that explored the roadblocks to effective parent-teacher communication. When parents were asked to “grade” their relationship with their child’s teachers, nearly half (45 percent) gave the teachers an “A,” with the majority on both sides categorizing the relationship as “great” and “open.”

Despite the strong relationships, the survey revealed that the two sides differ on some key issues. Sixty-eight percent of teachers reported difficulty in dealing with parents. A similar percentage of parents–63 percent–reported they’d never had difficulty with teachers. More than one-quarter of parents stated their biggest challenge has been teachers’ perceived lack of understanding for their concerns, while one in three teachers cited parents’ lack of understanding of their child’s issues as their biggest challenge.

The survey also revealed that:

  • Nearly two out of three parents say their child’s teachers offer a supportive response to concerns when they are expressed, and that teachers are willing to help resolve concerns; nearly 80 percent of teachers consider parents to be supportive.
  • Nearly 88 percent of parents consider their child’s teacher a partner in achieving success in school, but just over half of teachers, 54 percent, feel that parents do their part at home to ensure that kids get the most out of classroom learning.
  • The majority of parents, 8 out of 10, feel their child’s teachers are well equipped with the skills necessary to communicate with them.
  • Although 48 percent of parents feel that their opinion is always taken seriously by their child’s teachers, only 17 percent of teachers feel their opinion is taken seriously just as often by their students’ parents.

More at the link.

The people's choice amendement

From Senate bill 5 and the budget, to the Cleveland plan, it has become impossible to separate politics from education. Who represents us in Columbus is a critical as who sits on a local board of education. Making sure those in Columbus meet their constitutional obligations towards providing a quality public education is essential.

It's a job made more difficult, and perhaps impossible by the redistricting process that has produced State House and Senate districts that meander like snakes, dividing cities, townships and counties alike, in the desperate aim to carve out safe seats.

Politicians are choosing their voters. Creating their very own tenure system, many spend so much time railing against, safe from the democratic process and voter preferences

The process of creating safe, meandering districts this time around was especially seedy

A recently released trove of email messages from Ohio offers a rare inside glimpse into how it works.

The messages, sent from June to September, show collaboration between the national GOP and state Republicans to redraw Ohio’s maps and thus cement control of both the statehouse and a majority of congressional districts.

In one email, a Republican consultant working on redistricting for the state suggested that the new political maps could save the GOP “millions" of dollars in campaign funds by making districts safer for Republican candidates.

The maps, approved by the Republican-run state legislature in September, favor Republicans in 12 of Ohio’s 16 new congressional districts. And they strengthen the majority of likely Republican supporters in at least 17 state house districts, according to the mapping consultants' own calculations.

A report on this process revealed redistricting officials rented a downtown hotel room from July 17 to Oct. 15 to keep the map-drawing in a clandestine location. In emails, staffers referred to the hotel room as the “bunker” or “off site.”

Now an effort is underway to change this process to become transparent and fair. An amendment that would allow the people to choose their politicians - to put Voters First.

Step one of this initiative is to collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the November 2012 ballot. Time is short. In order to qualify for the election this fall, over 386,000 valid signatures from half (44) of Ohio’s 88 counties are needed, by July 4th. If you want to help you can go here.

Without a doubt, having competitive legislative districts will make legislators more accountable (something we know they like to legislate for others!) to cohesive communities and produce better, more civic minded policies that suit their constituents needs, not the needs of some special interests who flood the Columbus statehouse with campaign contributions.

If that all sounds good - get involved, today. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the history of redistricting initiatives.