Monday, April 14, 2014

Ohio Constitutional Commissioner Unleashes Nuclear Option

First off, I want to say that I am not one of these people who think that philanthropists and corporate interests want to destroy public education. I think they want public education to look vastly different than it did for you and me, and even them.

While we may disagree (sometimes vociferously) about the different elements of that reform agenda, I do think most of them do believe in public education, as Thomas Jefferson and the Founders of this country did.

But what Chad A. Readler has suggested at the most recent meeting of the commission that's re-writing Ohio's Constitution is not that. For it can be seen as nothing but a direct attack on the whole idea of public education.

It is, in fact, the Nuclear Option.

His proposal to remove the words "thorough and efficient" from the constitutional language establishing Ohio's system of public schools is an affront to Jefferson, the Founders and anyone else who gives a whip about public education. Because without those words, the state could set up one school in every community, jam all the kids into classrooms with 100 or more students, pay teachers $30,000 a year, have them teach the Earth is Flat, and there would be no recourse through the courts.

Readler's insulting claim that this whole education thing needs to be left out of the courts is particularly galling. Look at all the great Civil Rights cases (Brown v. Board, etc.). What is their foundation? Education and access to it.

African-American children in Mississippi and Alabama would still be attending legally segregated schools, but for judicial intervention. Readler has to know this. Yet he wants to pretend that somehow judicial intervention is a bad thing to ensure that children have access to high-quality education?

And here's a bit of Law School 101: Who interprets the Constitution? That's right. The courts. So if you're writing a Constitution, as Readler claims to be doing, who would interpret the Constitution? That's right, boys and girls. It's the freaking courts!

Readler has to know this too.

But he has serious baggage. He successfully argued in the Ohio Supreme Court that there are fully state funded kids and fully locally funded kids in every Ohio school district.

It doesn't take much to know that's BS.

Just look at any state funding report and try to find which kids are state funded and which are locally funded. Better yet, ask your local school district or the Ohio Department of Education whether your child is one that's fully state funded or fully funded by local tax dollars. Don't fret when you hear crickets. Because all Ohio children receive BOTH state AND local money. It's a mix.

But Readler's Charter School clients had to argue that there's a magic group of fully state funded kids. That way, they could argue that when the state removes $900 million in state money, it's not removing any locally raised money for non-Charter Schools, a reality that likely would be unconstitutional.

The Ohio Supreme Court -- many of whose members took big campaign contributions (and have for years) from big Charter School operators -- ruled with Readler.

Never mind that when that $900 million in Charter School money and the Charter School kids are removed from the system, every child in Ohio who doesn't go to a Charter loses almost 7% of their state revenue. How's that hole made up? That's right, local money that would have gone elsewhere. Or cuts.

But Readler doesn't care. In fact, his effort to put zero constitutional standards on what public education should look like is so radical that NO OTHER STATE DOES THIS. In fact, 10 other states use "thorough and efficient" as their standard, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Just so you can understand how crazy Readler's idea is, I am linking to a list of the constitutional standards of every US state here. The list was compiled by Molly Hunter at the Education Law Center in New Jersey for Pennsylvania's Constitutional Commission. Even Montana -- yes, that Montana -- has a very high standard:
"It is the goal of the people to establish a system of education which will develop the full educational potential of each person. Equality of educational opportunity is guaranteed to each person of the state."
I mean, I would love it if Readler would replace thorough and efficient with the Montana clause. But to replace it with nothing is simply a threat to my sons' (and all Ohio children's) education. Period.

According to Hunter, here are the states that actually make education a right of its citizens -- meaning they affirmatively state that public education is critical to the functioning of Democracy: Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

Not exactly a crazy, liberal list of states. Florida calls education a "fundamental value". Texas calls it "essential to the preservation of liberties and rights." Many conclude their clause with this phrase: "adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education."

Seems to me that these states take education seriously. Readler's clause would require the state to "provide for the organization, administration and control of the public-school system of the state supported by public funds." That's it. 

Let's play What Does This Look Like?, shall we?

Want to provide three schools in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati that everyone in the state has to find their way to attend? Go ahead. Because everywhere else, you can go to a Charter School, which in Ohio perform far worse than traditional public schools.

How about creating three schools (primary, middle and high school) for every county in the state? Sure. Whoever doesn't want to go to those three can go to a likely low-performing Charter School.

How about providing $100 for Readler's system? That would seem to be fine too because all it says is the public system has to be "supported" by public funds. $100 is not much, but it's support. Think that logic's flimsy? How many of you are about to file tax returns where you claim to be supporting your church at $10 a week (or less)? 

We could get even more ridiculous here. But the point is this: Readler's proposal is one of the only things I have seen in this, or any of my other jobs dealing with education policy over the last three decades, that I can confidently say is an attempt to destroy public education. 

It's not often that someone does or says something that's ironic in two ways, but that's what Readler's done here. Let's start with the first bit of irony:

1) While Readler claims he doesn't want courts determining education policy, the Ohio Supreme Court gave up jurisdiction over Ohio's education clause in 2002. So the courts aren't involved now anyway, beyond the four High Court rulings calling Ohio's system unconstitutional between 1997-2002. Any change to that clause -- even Readler's sophomoric attempt -- would actually open up the potential for a new lawsuit based on the new language.

2) Readler is a lawyer for Ohio Charter Schools, which are, technically, public schools. So this clause would actually allow the Ohio Legislature to do horrible things to Charter Schools too. Now, given this current leadership's obsession with funding even horribly performing Charter Schools at all costs, this scenario doesn't seem likely. But it could happen, and if it did, Charter Schools would have their own lawyer to thank.

Anyone who cares about public education, including Charter Schools, must let the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission  know how awful this provision is. Make your voices heard. The next meeting is June 12. Make a ruckus. Let the commissioners know that monkeying with our children's futures is unacceptable.

And demand answers from your legislators and others running for office. Would they vote for this horrific provision? If they would, then make sure they don't get your vote.

If they're getting away with it, it's your fault. Now more than ever.

So don't let them.