Last night, I drove up to the Collinwood Recreation Center to hear Mayor Frank Jackson and Cleveland Municipal School District CEO Eric Gordon discuss their plan to overhaul Cleveland's schools. I thought I'd share a few impressions.
First of all, Jackson's meeting reminded me of the many Town Hall meetings I held during my time in the legislature. Whenever you offer a public forum, sometimes members of the public use the opportunity to air grievances that have little to do with the topic at hand. Last night was no exception. And while some of the Cleveland Plan I've disagreed with, I admire and respect Jackson's willingness to stand there and take it. Politicians never get credit for that. So let me give Mayor Jackson kudos there.
Let me also say that as someone who has gone through what Jackson has, namely developing a major piece of education reform amid the many different factions and pressures you face, I feel a kind of kinship with Jackson, though I certainly would have chosen to do many things differently than he did. But I know exactly what he's going through.
Second, I had the opportunity to speak about my remaining major concerns with the plan -- namely, the lack of state fiscal involvement and the inherent long-term problems letting Charter Schools receive local revenue would entail. I said I was extremely concerned that without additional state resources, I fear the truly laudable goals in the Cleveland Plan, like universal pre-school, will never happen.
I pointed out that, adjusted for inflation, the per pupil amount the state has sent to the district has dropped by more than
I also pointed out that with fracking coming on line, there's potential for substantial new revenues, like what has happened in Texas, New Mexico and other states. And that the state now removes $117 million from the district and gives it to Charter Schools, very few of which are highly performing. And the state sends out $12 million for vouchers. And, while I didn't mention it at the meeting, the state's got a $265 million budget surplus now too.
I mentioned that between all these resources, the state should be able to greatly ease the burden on Cleveland's taxpayers so folks making a little more than $22,000 a year (the median income in CMSD) don't have to foot this plan's entire bill through a huge new tax levy.
Jackson and Gordon's responses were telling. Gordon admitted that the district's shortfall almost entirely rests on state budget decisions. When I pointed out that Cleveland Charters Schools get $7343 per pupil from the state, for example, while the state gives Cleveland
Yet Jackson admitted he didn't ask for any additional state revenue (which drew some gasps from the audience too), despite the state putting CMSD in this position, because the current make up of state government would make that possibility extremely unlikely. He also answered the criticism of some that he is simply turning over the schools to private hands by explaining that the easiest way to do that is for the district to fail -- a fair point.
Throughout this process, though, accountability has been cited as a key to the Cleveland Plan's success. Accountability of schools (both district and charter), teachers, administrators, the Mayor, the School Board, the parents, the children. I only ask that the state, whose responsibility it is to educate children in Ohio after all, be held to the same account. As a mentor of mine used to say, "If they're getting away with it, it's your fault." That applies to all of us.
And then I got to thinking: What if 50 buses of Cleveland kids showed up at the statehouse one day during the House or Senate Education Committee's hearing on the Cleveland Plan? And what if all the children packed those respective committee hearings? And what if they all asked something like this: "My local community is committed to my education. Why aren't you?"
And what if they did this at every committee hearing between now and when the bill passes?
Would state leaders avoid their constitutional obligations then?
I'd love to see them try.