Three constitutional provisions confer on all Ohio youth the right to a thorough and efficient system of traditional public education. These edicts require the state to make available high quality educational opportunities to all the children of all the people via the SYSTEM. Citizens can opt out of the SYSTEM but the state has no constitutional obligation to pay the education expenses of those who opt out. By constitutional mandate, the state′s first obligation is to perfect the SYSTEM. If it is perceived that the SYSTEM has problems, it is the obligation of the state to fix the SYSTEM.
Beginning with the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report, powerful voices at the federal level began condemning the SYSTEM with particular rancor being directed toward school unions. Eventually influential persons with a variety of motivations and intentions piled on the campaign to beat down public education. The motivation of some was the prospect of accruing huge profits from the public largess. But regardless of the motivation of these powerful voices, the first order of business for the public school antagonists was to destroy public confidence in public education and thus take the public out of public education.
Distracters began by intensifying the “failing” school rhetoric and the deification of education “choice”. Hence, the charter school and voucher movement went forward.
The people with the huge profit motive hijacked the charter school movement. Charter schools were supposed to be non-profit, experimental, innovative entities which would instruct traditional public schools on how to improve. Instead, many of these “experiments” have merely become a lucrative money-making scheme for high profile campaign contributors.
The “thorough and efficient” clause was written by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1850 and 1851 and adopted by the citizens of Ohio. Convention delegates intended the public common school SYSTEM to be the SYSTEM of choice. Delegate Archbold wanted to see a SYSTEM of schools “as perfect as could be devised.” (2 Debates, page 698) Delegate Quigley remarked, “The language of this section (thorough and efficient clause) is expressive of the liberality worthy of a great state and a great people. There is no stopping place here short of common school education to all the children of the state.” (2 Debates, page 14)
If the current system is not adequately serving all the students, the state has the constitutional responsibility to fix the SYSTEM-not farm out the students to non-system entities. The flaws of the SYSTEM must be addressed responsibly by state government. Policies that allow some students to escape the SYSTEM at public expense (while neglecting the SYSTEM) constitute malfeasance by government officials. If a school is perceived as failing to the point that some students should be permitted to escape, is it ethical/moral to leave any students behind?
More than 15 years ago the Ohio Supreme Court decreed the SYSTEM unconstitutional and admonished the state to fix the SYSTEM. The SYSTEM is still unconstitutional. A constitutional SYSTEM would be “as perfect as could be devised”, and would not need an escape route for students.
The traditional public school SYSTEM has provided “choice” such as magnet schools, career/technical programming, diverse curricular offerings, etc., to students for decades. State policy restrictions and dismal state funding levels have hindered and limited the capacity of districts to accommodate “choice”. Expansion of “choice” could have been a “reform” exclusively within the SYSTEM had it not been for the privatization/market forces movement.
Some of the advocates for privatizing public education have been working for decades to dismantle the traditional SYSTEM. On November 25, 1991, at the request of Governor George Voinovich and newly appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction Ted Sanders, President George H. W. Bush ventured into Ohioto talk about education. During a speech at Veterans Memorial in Columbus, Bush advocated that Ohio provide a voucher for each student for use at any public or private school. A November 26, 1991 Cincinnati Enquirer article reported, “Even Governor George Voinovich quickly backed away from Bush′s unqualified endorsement of giving parents choice.”
Bill Bennett, former U. S. Secretary of Education and one of the founders of the K-12 Inc. charter school company, a few years ago, stated on a nationally broadcast TV program that he could educate students online for less than $1,000. That company operates Ohio Virtual Academy, which does a robust online business in Ohio ($58,918,395.82 this year).
If this “choice” movement continues to accelerate for the next decade, public boards of education will end up being financial conduits to educational entities over which they have no supervision.
The education “choice” programs in Ohio will cost Ohio school districts nearly one billion dollars next school year. These “choice” venues are funded by tax dollars with very limited accountability. This is the sacrifice the public makes to the education god of “choice”.
As more tax dollars are drained from traditional public schools to “choice” venues, it will be increasingly difficult for them to improve educational opportunities for the students left in the SYSTEM.
Colonial America had no public common school SYSTEM open to all children at no cost to parents. In the mid 1800′s each individual state in the northern part of the county made the crucial policy decision to embrace the public “common school movement.” The movement was embraced later in the 19th century by southern states. In spite of inadequate state support (school finance litigation has taken place in at least 45 states) the common school system has been a magnificent success story. In Ohio, incremental improvements have accrued in the SYSTEM from 1851 when state responsibility for public education became a constitutional mandate until the present time.
In Ohio the state has never completely assumed its responsibility to secure a constitutional thorough and efficient SYSTEM. When the Ohio Supreme Court confronted state officials with the state responsibility issue its March, 24 1997 decision, some state officials suggested that the “thorough and efficient clause” be removed from the Ohio Constitution. Without Article VI, sections 2 and 3 of the Ohio Constitution, state government would have no obligation to provide for a SYSTEM of public schools.
The Speaker of the House, a very vocal and exuberant supporter of education “choice” (vouchers, charter schools etc.), is the sponsor of a bill that would establish the Constitutional Modernization Commission (HB 188). This bill passed the House on June 8. The Speaker said when the bill was introduced that “thorough and efficient” and “common schools” are provisions that should be reviewed by the Commission.
In the context of elected state officials′ infatuation with the privatization / “choice” movement, it is quite probable that membership of such a Commission will bend toward an amendment or amendments that would eliminate state responsibility for a state SYSTEM of public education. The House version of the budget bill (HB 153) has a provision that would allow public money to flow directly to schools operated by for-profit corporations with no sponsoring agent, and very scant accountability and transparency. In addition to this egregious provision, charter school and vouchers are expanded greatly, setting the stage for unlimited choice. The battle to save the Ohio public education SYSTEM is being lost because most citizens are not paying attention to the matter. Most people don′t realize there is a battle raging.
The 2010 Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) Gallup Poll reveals that nearly half of Americans give the schools in their communities either an A or B. This is consistent with findings over the past 35 years. However, only 18% of Americans rated the nation′s schools either an A or B. The latter polling result shows a downward trend in attitudes toward public schools in general. This difference between the attitude toward the schools in the community and in the nation is probably due to the barrage of rhetoric about “failing public schools” and the craze for education “choice” and the privatization movement.
Parents of public school students rate their local schools somewhat high, according to the PDK Gallup Poll. Seventy-seven percent of Americans gave the school their oldest child attends either an A or B. Grades given by parents to their schools have improved over the past 25 years according to the poll.
The PDK Gallup Poll data indicates that the traditional public school SYSTEM is a much more effective institution than portrayed by its critics. Any school needs the support of parents/guardians to be successful. Those schools that are graded low on the states′ report cards typically serve pupil populations living in challenging environments and circumstances, with a general lack of parental support for the school.
The state government in Ohio is responsible for a thorough and efficient SYSTEM of public common schools; thus is responsible for providing the essential resources to permit the schools to be successful. This responsibility includes the provision of resources to communities and parents that allow children to enter school developmentally ready for the school experience.
State officials should be held accountable for their neglect of the SYSTEM. Farming out the SYSTEM to entities that have no better success rate is irresponsible.