Be careful for what you wish

First Posted: 1/29/2015

After reading Thomas Lucente’s Jan. 25 column (“Separate school from state”), the superintendents of Putnam County feel compelled to write a response in order to present a more accurate picture regarding school choice in Ohio as well as to draw some comparisons to our state’s public school systems.

Some school options Mr. Lucente mentioned in the article have been around for decades, such as parochial/private schools and homeschooling. He also referred to more recent options, such as interschool choice and magnet schools within the public school system. And yes, publicly funded brick and mortar and online charter schools are now an option. Mr. Lucente states “we” are headed in the right direction in terms of these many choices for students today.

Some other facts would be beneficial to know before we consider, as Mr. Lucente suggests, that government be the last option in how we educate our children. Consider the following:

America’s public education system is based on the premise of the U.S. Constitution. It is a critical component to an informed, democratic society and the American way of life. Public schools do not discriminate; public schools serve all students regardless of background, class or ability. A privatized, market-based education system would essentially eliminate this long-held belief of our country.

Using public tax dollars to allow students and their families the opportunity to choose their method of education is already common in our state. For example, students may attend brick and mortar or online charter schools, which have been around for over a decade. It should also be noted that these schools have had minimal oversight, although public tax dollars are being used to fund them, and various problems have been publicized. They include the following:

• The improper use of funds to create large leasing contracts for property. One prime example is the Imagine Columbus Primary Academy, a charter school of 155 students, which paid an Imagine subsidiary $700,000 a year to lease the building which housed its students. The rent alone consumed over half the school’s annual budget.

• Hundreds of thousands of public taxpayer dollars being used to market and advertise charter schools. A northeastern Ohio online charter school of 1,200 students spent over $185,000 in marketing in clever radio and TV ads. This taxpayer money is appropriated for public education but is used instead for public relations and student recruitment.

• The amount of funds given to our elected politicians from the CEOs of these Ohio charter schools. White Hat Management, the largest charter school management in Ohio, is headed by David Brennan. From 2001-2010, he and his family donated nearly $3 million dollars to candidates running for public office in Ohio.

• The poor academic record for Ohio charter schools. An analysis by Innovation Ohio shows that charter schools received more Fs than As, Bs, and Cs combined in this past year’s state report card.

Mr. Lucente’s piece is clearly an overgeneralization of public schools and shortchanges the endless daily positives occurring throughout Ohio public schools. Not only are our public students reaching unprecedented heights of achievement, they are doing so despite the mountain of legislative initiatives that are overtaking public education.

Did you know:

• Year after year, public schools across Ohio are among the best in the country, earning national recognition, landing on prestigious awards lists and showcasing models of innovation, efficiency and achievement.

• Ohio public school students continue to outperform the nation on college entrance and placement exams.

• Ohio has nearly 50 dedicated career and technology centers, which provide students cutting-edge skills in vocational training.

• U.S. students are improving dramatically in math. Since 1990, American fourth-graders have gained 28 points and eighth-graders have gained 21 points on the math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

• U.S. high schools are more rigorous than ever. In 1990, less than a third of American high school seniors had a core curriculum that included math through at least Algebra II and three science labs. By 2009, that number was 59 percent.

In addition to student academic success, most public school districts throughout our state are the hubs of the communities.

Visit a football stadium on a fall Friday night or take in a basketball game in the winter.

Read the many public-school related articles commonly written in your own newspaper, which share stories of student bodies hosting fundraisers for many worthwhile civic and community events, such as Relay for Life, Common Goal Hope Survives, etc.

This is not to mention how multiple districts rally around one of their own families time and again in a time of hardship.

Public schools, the people within those respective districts and the various life events that bring them together serve to educate the young people in real-life lessons on selflessness, sacrifice and a belief in the greater good. Through this collective effort each school and community fosters a unique and enduring sense of identity and pride.

Mr. Lucente suggests it is time to try something new yet fails to recognize that alternative schooling options have been around for decades. Further, he makes the statement that government should be the last option in how we educate our children, which is a dangerous one particularly considering the aforementioned public school facts.

Time to try something new? Be careful for what you wish.

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