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LIMITED by the Ohio Senate Ed Committee

June 14, 2019

Research and analysis of successful school reform efforts have pointed to several supports that are consistently associated with stronger student outcomes than state takeovers of public school districts. These include access to high quality early childhood and pre-K programs, a learning environment centered on students, positive and restorative discipline practices, and investment in public school districts, not constant budget cut backs and efforts to educate students on the cheap.

Ohio needs to invest in wraparound supports like health services, vision and dental care, after-school sports leagues and more, for both students and the broader community. A promising policy (HB 154), which offers support for lower performing school districts, was designed to dissolve and replace Ohio’s school takeover law and to encourage wraparound services for high-poverty schools.

House Bill 154 passed without amendment in the Ohio House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 83-12. Unfortunately, a secret group of school privatization advocates recently surfaced with an alternative plan for school takeovers, the Ohio School Transformation Plan, and that takeover plan was included in a Senate amendment to the state budget. The plan was rolled out on a Tuesday and LIMITED testimony at the Senate Education Committee was scheduled for Thursday. The committee stuck to its 3-minute limit, and opponent testimony from the Board of Public Education Partners was abruptly cut off midway through the presentation.

The PEP Board strongly disagrees with putting LIMITS on public input of any law – especially a destructive school takeover law that was crafted in secret by a clandestine group of ALEC legislators, “school choice” lobbyists and organizations, and anti-public education “think-tanks.” That is simply NOT what democracy looks like!

Here is PEP’s testimony that was LIMITED by the Ohio Senate Education Committee:

Chair Lehner, Vice Chair Terhar, Ranking Member Fedor, and Members of the Ohio Senate Education Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony to this esteemed committee. My name is Jeanne Melvin, and I am a retired school teacher and president of Public Education Partners, a statewide advocacy group for public school districts and the children and families that they serve.

You may remember that the Board of Public Education Partners (PEP) continues to be adamantly opposed to House Bill 70 – Ohio’s school takeover law. Ohioans never agreed to any initiative to give the state authority to take over struggling public school districts. In fact, an overwhelming majority of the public believes that disinvestment in schools, which our state has authorized over the last eight years, is a primary obstacle to a high-quality public education.

The PEP Board commends Representatives Miller and Jones on the thoughtful research they incorporated into the language of House Bill 154 to solve this school takeover crisis. Kudos to the bipartisan group of 83 Ohio House members who passed HB 154 to repeal Ohio’s failed school district takeover law and put it into their version of the state budget. We salute the bipartisan State Board of Education whose members unanimously supported a resolution against House Bill 70 and the local school boards across the state that started the ball rolling. Many thanks to all of the parents, educators, and stakeholders who have taken a stand and spoken out against the destruction caused by House Bill 70. HOORAY for the grassroots public education advocates who have worked relentlessly to educate all Ohioans about school takeovers and what they are really about.

HB 154 is a promising policy offering support for lower performing school districts, and it was designed to dissolve and replace academic distress commissions and to encourage wraparound services for high-poverty schools. House Bill 154 is an evidence-based model that was created using results from a 5-year research study of school turnaround by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in MA. Those field-tested results are the basis for the language of HB 154.

House Bill 154 addresses the concerns of educators, school district leaders, and community members. It passed without amendment in the Ohio House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 82-12, so now it’s up to the Ohio Senate to also act in a bipartisan manner to pass this well-researched plan.

Just like 2015, a secret partisan group (which includes some of the same people who turned HB 70 into a school takeover law) surfaced last month with its alternative “Ohio School Transformation Plan” – another untested school takeover plan with no research to back it up. That 17-page plan, drafted by school privatization advocates, has been “turned-around” into a 68-page sub. Amendment to the budget that is certain to be a lucrative deal for the many outside “consultants” and “school improvement organizations.”

The lengthy proposed amendment uses changes in terminology to fool the undiscerning eye (academic distress commissions = school improvement commissions; chief executive officers = school improvement directors), but it’s the same old tired efforts to change the governance of lower-performing underfunded public schools that will not result in the infusion of needed resources. How does this plan address poverty, which has already been analyzed as the root cause of lower school grade cards?

WHY do the framers of the Ohio School Transformation Plan assume that officials of the state, many of whom lack any training and experience in the field of education, know more about operating a local school district than the professional educators chosen by the struggling school district’s elected school board?

Even though over 600 traditional public school districts in Ohio serve more than 1.8 million students, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio General Assembly depend way too much on so-called school-choice lobbyists and organizations, philanthropies, and anti-public education “think-tanks” for advice and direction in education issues. The time has come to finally pay attention to the thoughtful input of thousands of parents, educators, school leaders, and local community members who continue to demand the end of state takeovers of public school districts.

PEP supports the complete and immediate elimination of HB 70 by keeping the bipartisan HB 154 language in the budget to repeal and replace Ohio’s failed school takeover agenda. The Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland School Districts cannot withstand further disruption from an untested and highly questionable plan designed without the input of public school district stakeholders. Those school districts require the clear-cut evidence-based steps included in House Bill 154.

Please do not endorse another school takeover plan that was written without any input from local government leaders, locally elected school boards, and education organizations that support public school districts. We request that you reject HB 70, as well as this alternative school takeover plan, that were both drafted in secret. Thoughtful education policy-making can never happen within a culture of secrecy. Surely, Ohio is better than that.

Thank you again for allowing me to offer testimony on behalf of the Board of Public Education Partners and more importantly, in support of Ohio’s children and families.

Jeanne Melvin, President, Public Education Partners

The PEP Board’s LIMITED testimony begins at about 24:26 in this recording of the committee meeting:

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Dawn’s Story

I am a public school teacher in Oberlin, Ohio. As I do year after year, I had my fifth-graders write editorials for the Newspaper in Education contest sponsored by our local Chronicle-Telegram newspaper. And as I always do, I gave the students free choice to choose their topics and to come up with their own polished submissions.

When so many of them started writing about testing, I freaked out a little because prior to this month’s AIR testing, I had rarely even mentioned the topic to them, refusing to stress them out about the upcoming three weeks of testing. I sent some of their work to our principal with a note that said, in so many words, “Holy smokes, look at what these kids are saying. I promise that I haven’t been stressing them out about these tests!” She wrote back saying she thought their submissions sounded just fine.

I’m so thankful to have a principal who values our students’ feelings.

When I talked to the kids about the testing, I told them how surprised I was by their topic choices and asked why they were feeling so worried. After all, I told them, I had barely mentioned the topic and told them I’d be the last person to put pressure on them or try to stress them out. One student told me, “You are working with the wrong kids, Mrs. Randall. You don’t have to stress us out. We stress ourselves out enough for all of us.”

They then started sharing stories about last year’s PARCC test, when they tested on and off from February through May when they were in 4th-grade. They shared about how scared they were that they wouldn’t pass the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee reading test the year before that and then fail the entire year. Ohio legislation is insane.

But worst of all, one student said, “This is the third new kind of test we’ve had in three years. When will Ohio get this right?”

This same student was the one who took it upon himself to go to the Ohio Department of Education website on his Chromebook and research his topic and find out that some schools were able to still do paper/pencil tests, and he was pretty upset that he couldn’t.

I sent a note to the newspaper staff member about all their submissions and she told me to please not censor their writing, but to send it all in. She wanted to see it all.

Today, I opened the newspaper supplement to these two student submissions ruling a whole spread. Apparently, the judges heard them loud and clear and felt their words needed to be heard by our community.

All this high-stakes testing is really starting to take a toll on kids. When will our legislature hear and care about their voices?

Each child in my class is the SAME child who has been forced to sit through high-stakes testing year after year after year. When will enough be enough?

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