VI.02 Schools funds (Ohio Constitution)
The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state; but no religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this state.
At the outset, I wish to express my appreciation to the public school teachers, former teachers and all public school advocates. You are the guardians of my liberty. You are my link with democracy and a free social order. You make liberty possible. You work in the crucible of democracy.
Public school teachers are the unsung heroes while being subjected to untold ingratitude by those who are committed to the privatization of public education. But for the people who count in your professional life—your students and their parents—you are appreciated.
To those of you who are advocates of the public common schools, I also express my most sincere gratitude. You likewise are my heroes. You support a magnificent institution—the great American common school system.
Common school idea
The public common school is an idea; an idea that was initiated over two centuries ago by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and scores of others who laid the foundation for our nation. Jefferson said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Jefferson further stated, “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.”
Jefferson’s voice resonates in our ears today. We cannot allow government to be controlled by a few wealthy elitists and their political minions.
It was necessary for this common school idea to be implemented in order for a government of the people, by the people and for the people to survive. Horace Mann, often referred to as the father of the common school, said it was the greatest discovery of mankind. It is the only institution that has the capacity to bring all the children of all the people together to learn together and to become Americans. The marvel of America is the successful assimilation of people from nearly every nation into the American culture. This great feat has been accomplished primarily by the common school.
The America of the past has been the greatest “melting pot” in the history of the world. The common school is at the epicenter of this phenomenon. I shudder when I hear we have become a “lettuce salad” rather than a “melting pot.”
Implementation of the common school was a hard fought battle. Horace Mann led the troops in support of the idea. Mann said, “If ever there was a cause, if ever there can be a cause, worthy to be upheld by all of toil or sacrifice that the human hand or heart can endure, it is the cause of Education.” This statement was made in the heat of the battle to establish free universal public education—the common school.
New battle to reclaim the common school
The battle for the common school must be fought anew—in the 21st century. The fervor that Horace Mann displayed must be replicated in our lives. That’s what this conference entails. It is why Public Education Partners (PEP) was formed.
The common school has several unique characteristics:
- A function of government (public not private)
- Democratically governed by elected board members from each school community
- A state responsibility-a statewide system
- Tax supported
- Open to all and free to all
- Transparent and accountable to the state and the local communities
- Fully regulated to ensure that it is operated with integrity and fairness to all
- At the local level an essential and vibrant part of and participant in community life
In Ohio, the Constitution requires the state to secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state. Whatever else the state might do regarding education, the common school demands the highest priority.
For a variety of reasons, there are those who adamantly reject the common school idea and forcefully campaign to privatize this time-honored American institution. In doing so, they reject the provisions for a common school system embedded in every state constitution in the U.S.
The battle to protect and save the common school today is as difficult, and possibly more difficult, than it was to implement it. Although some rich folks and some private school people fought the idea of publicly-supported education for all in the early 1800s, the opposition forces today are much more rich and powerful. Additionally, the common school advocates today seem proportionally fewer in number and less enthusiastic.
Just say no to charters and vouchers
In context of the efficacy of the common school idea and the state’s responsibility to provide for the common school, please consider my perspective on the privatization of public education movement. Notwithstanding the earlier rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and by the Ohio Supreme Court that vouchers and charters are constitutional in Ohio, and notwithstanding the concession of many public school advocates that vouchers and charters are here to stay, I am convinced we should just say no. Many will argue that the train has left the station on these issues. I believe we should work together to derail the train. These choice programs neither fit the constitutional provision for a thorough and efficient system of common schools nor the requisite of promoting the common good.
These privately-operated alternatives are free from many critical government regulations and thus are ripe for abuse and corruption. They are not governed by elected board members. They are not community schools. They are not open to all. They are neither transparent nor accountable. Students are not entitled to an education in these choice programs.
THEY DO NOT FIT THE THOROUGH AND EFFICIENT COMMON SCHOOLS PROVISION OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION.
There were recent attempts to remove the thorough and efficient provision from the Ohio Constitution by some members of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission. Although those attempts were defeated, they demonstrate a measure of contempt for the common school idea and how deeply rooted the privatization movement is in Ohio.
I need not enumerate the nepotism, fraud, corruption and low performance that is inherent in the charter industry. You are well aware that failure is the hallmark of charterdom. The enrollment rigging, particularly in the online sector, has been screaming from newspaper headlines for months and begs a solution. The questions swirling around the Gulen charter empire are mindboggling. I need not rehash the devilish threads that run through the charter world.
Tactics of the privatizers
The tactics of privatizers, from the 1983 Nation at Risk report until now, are familiar to you. Likewise, the harm caused by the test and punishment tactics of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) are well known. You are acutely aware of the damage the Bush and Obama administrations have done to the common school system and teaching profession.
Choice programs segregate. They contribute little or nothing to the common good. They don’t improve educational opportunities; but yet federal and state officials give priority to choice while neglecting their constitutional and moral responsibility to the common school. The $3 billion the federal government has distributed to states, and in part to charter operators, to advance charter schools illustrates the federal commitment to diminish the common school.
The voucher/charter schemes are solidly entrenched in Ohio and across the nation. A segment of Corporate America, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), hedge fund managers, and pro-privatization foundations have coordinated efforts and campaign contributions to pressure federal and state officials to neglect, even malign, the common school as a strategy to advance the privatization campaign. These schemes will be hard to stop or even slow down.
Strategies of the privatizers
The privatizers’ strategies to advance their cause include:
- Intimidating common school personnel
- Issuing Nation at Risk-type of propaganda that public schools are failing
- Imposing an unrealistic counter-productive accountability system on school districts
- A-F report cards inspired by ALEC and Jeb Bush
- Ignoring research that shows choice programs do not generally compare favorably in academic performance, graduation rates and comprehensive education programming with the common school system
- Overpowering public officials with campaign funds. The ECOT Man is a prime example!
- Promoting half-baked research propaganda
- Spending huge sums of money to influence the outcome of statewide education choice issues (pro-privatization advocates have spent nearly $20 million to remove a charter school cap in Massachusetts)
The specific tactics they employ are:
- Tuition tax credits
- Education savings plan
- Taking over entire school districts by electing pro-privatization candidates
- State recovery districts
- Youngstown Plan
The privatization schemes keep on coming. You are already conversant with the fraud, corruption and low performance in the charter world. You know charters and vouchers do no fit the mold of the constitutionally-mandated, thorough and efficient common school system. Thus I will not dwell on these.
Concurrently, Ohio is operating an unconstitutional common school system. Four times the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Ohio’s elementary and secondary schools are neither thorough nor efficient.
All of the political de-emphasis on the common school and promotion of “choice” troubles me greatly. But just as alarming is: why do public school officials, citizens and state officials tolerate an unconstitutional common school system? Why don’t Ohioans become ruffled when the ECOT superintendent testified in court that ECOT is entitled to full payment even if a student logs on as little as a minute per day. Why isn’t there contempt expressed when the Gulen charter schools spend hundreds of millions of dollars to bring members of their Islamic movement to the U.S. on H-1B visas under the guise that they can’t fill the positions with Americans? Why is it that the public education community has not protested very much against the test and punishment provisions of NCLB and RTTT?
It is amazing that local school officials hesitate to pass resolutions or otherwise speak out in opposition to federal intrusion into the boardrooms and classrooms of America.
Where is the outrage against policies that are detrimental to students and teachers? For example, why have only 75 districts invoiced the state for charter school deductions? Why? Why? Why?
But there are hopeful signs. Organizations such as Public Education Partners are gathering momentum. Throughout Ohio, school administrators are beginning to challenge legislators on local control issues.
On November 14, a group of education leaders will meet in a 2:30 pm session with the E & A Coalition Steering Committee to further plan a campaign to reclaim charter students. Public meetings on the “local control” issue are being conducted in local communities throughout Ohio. On November 15, 10:00 am, school superintendents will hold a Public Education Rally on the west side of the Statehouse.
A New York superintendent called on his colleagues to unite and push back in this October 14 post from Dianne Ravitch.
A unified, strategic battle plan must emerge. Leaders from the various pro-public education groups must come together to form a plan to rally the troops. But while getting organized, we must push forward now, today. In spite of the power of the privatizers, we will prevail if we plan strategically.
Meanwhile, we can continue to build momentum to restore the grandeur of the common school within our own spheres of influence. Some actions are:
- Organize community meetings to discuss how the public common school is being eroded by the privatizers
- Challenge state officials to support adequate funding for the traditional school system and to stop throwing tax funds down the black hole of the failing alternatives
- Encourage local school officials to stand proudly for the traditional school system and against failing alternatives
- Encourage local boards to pass resolutions in support of local control and in opposition to the failing charter industry
- Inform friends and neighbors about the waste and corruption inherent in the charter industry
The anti-public school forces are well-funded and politically powerful. But we the people have the numbers on our side. After three decades of public school bashing the pendulum is beginning to swing back. Our opponents will spend more money to recapture their momentum. They will tell bigger lies and create new intimidation tactics.
But this is our Horace Mann moment—our moment in history.
We will prevail.
~William Phillis, The Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, 10/22/16