The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

May 4, 2013

Here’s how to improve education in Ohio

By NEIL FRIEDER - Star Beacon Editor
Star Beacon

— In three days a lot of Ashtabula countians will vote on several issues, including two school issues, one of which is a renewal and the other a proposed emergency operating levy.

This is not about endorsing either one of the issues — an additional 6.2 mill emergency operating levy for the Ashtabula Area City School District and  a 4.5 mill renewal levy for the Jefferson Area School. The Star Beacon has endorsed both issues.

 One of the themes echoed in those endorsements and in some Letters to the Editor I have received over the past couple of weeks: It’s time for the people of Ohio to change the law in order to reflect an equitable way of funding our public schools, but do not reject these issues because it will hurt the students. That is not the law we should be concerned with changing at this time. There is another law, but a little later...

 ... Ever since the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in DeRolph vs. the State of Ohio (1997) the way schools are funded is unconstitutional, the Ohio General Assembly has steadfastly refused to do anything about it, even though most Ohioans probably want it changed.

That tells you something about the Ohio General Assembly: They are not beholden to the people. That is because they have created voter opposition free zone districts for themselves.   The only thing they are beholden to are special interest groups, corporations, deep-pocketed individuals with political agendas and themselves, but not Ohioans like you and me.

A lot of the members of the General Assembly would like to disembowel public education. The best way to do this is to deprive schools of the money needed to provide a real education and to micro-manage schools.

Yes, micro-manage, which is the worst form of management possible because it literally saps creative energy, independent thinking, devastates work- place morale and fuels anger. In the case of schools, teachers and students only rise to the expectations of the micro-managing state government.

 The General Assembly, along with the governor, micro-manage by mandating programs, and issuing report cards on districts and individual schools, and forcing students to take state mandated tests. Thus, teachers are forced to teach to tests instead of teaching to life enhancement and enrichment skills.

 The General Assembly and our great governor, John Kasich,  have taken it a step further: They have cut the amount of money to public education while increasing the amount of taxpayer money to private charter schools.

It is not just about how we fund education. It extends to many other areas that Ohioans favor. Among those areas are expanded Medicare, which would provide health care to about 300,000 economically disadvantaged Ohioans at no additional cost; same sex marriage rights,  (now favored by a majority of Ohioans); and  a continual effort by the governor and General Assembly to erode worker rights, both in the private and public sectors.

If you want to make the General Assembly more accountable to us, the people of Ohio then you have to change how the state redistricts its legislative political districts.

We use to think of government of the people and for the people on all levels of government. That means the people are the government. That does not exist today because the dominant political party within the state has used gerrymandering, which is redistricting legislative districts every 10 years to reflect population changes in such a way as to negate the power of the voter.

 Voting use to be our most basic and important democratic right. The guys in Columbus are taking that right away from us.

Today, congressional and General Assembly districts are recreated so as not to make geo-population sense, but to keep a particular political party in power, regardless of the political makeup of residents of the state.

Ohio has long been considered a 50/50 state, meaning it is about 50 percent Republican and 50 percent Democrat. This is why presidential candidates spend a lot of time and money on Ohio. The state is up for grabs.

Yet, the Republican Party over the last two decades has had overwhelming majorities in the General Assembly’s House and Senate. From a voters’ standpoint that makes little sense.

Last November, Ohioans had an opportunity to change the way the state redistricts by taking it out of the hands of the political party in power and placing in the hands of a non-partisan committee.

It was rejected because large amounts of special interest money were used against it in such a way that voters were prevented from understanding what it was about.

Obviously, the General Assembly will not enact legislation that could threaten their jobs and their PERS (Public Employees Retirement System pension), so it will take a successful constitutional amendment initiative by the voters.

Without that change, public education will continue to lose ground in Ohio, the health of a lot of Ohioans will continue to be precarious and workers will continue to lose ground. And, Ohio will not have a democratic form of government, but an oligarchy, which is government of a few or dominant class.

Frieder is editor of the Star Beacon and can be reached at nfeditor@suite224.net.