Those of us who have been around for a while (which is a polite way of saying “those of us who are old”) have learned that the most important skill state and federal politicians possess is the ability to talk. They talk to convince us to elect them, they talk to convince their peers that a bill they are proposing is good, they talk to convince us that the laws they vote for are in our best interest (even when they aren’t), they talk to convince supporters to contribute to their campaigns, and they talk to get re-elected. When it serves them well, many have even perfected the art of saying one thing to one group of people and something completely different to a group with different interests.
A perfect example of this doublespeak is when state politicians publicly express outrage at the fiscal and academic fraud that has been uncovered in charter schools that are owned by private companies, then they willingly accept large campaign donations from the very people who own those charter schools. Most of us would find that hypocritical, but that’s just normal business in the political world.
There’s nothing wrong with talking. After all, we all do it. But, there IS something wrong with people representing fiction as fact and performing their jobs based on philosophies that make no sense, especially when their decisions impact our lives. Politicians do both of these things all the time.
Because they say so many words about so many things in so many different scenarios, it is extremely difficult to hold them accountable for everything they say. It’s equally difficult to determine if their actions match their words, because, frankly, monitoring them is a full time job. But, it can be done, and every one of us should pay much better attention to what is said and done by the political establishment and hold them accountable for both their words and their actions. It is the only way we will ever make the “alternative facts” mentality that dominates the political scene to stop.
Admittedly, most of the political conversations that occur at the state and federal level are little more than partisan gibberish, but there rare occasions when politicians slip up and say what they really believe, especially when they are forced to speak in something other than sound bites. They’re really good at sticking to a prepared script or echoing their party line; they’re not so good at talking about subjects with any degree of substance. They are most susceptible when they are asked pointed questions that require a degree of depth in their answer. It is what they say during these times of stress that provides a window into what they really believe.
According to a recent legislative update, just such an occasion recently occurred when State Budget Director Tim Keen testified about his and Governor Kasich’s proposed budget in front of the Ohio Senate’s Finance Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee. His testimony was, for the most part, standard political mumbo jumbo where he used a lot of words to say nothing, but he made two comments that were particularly alarming when considering they came from the man entrusted to create the budget for the state of Ohio, a budget that impacts every one of our lives.
His comments were in response to two separate questions he was asked about school funding. His first statement was, “It shouldn’t be the state’s responsibility to step in and subsidize costs that schools are obligated under federal and state law to cover.”
Think about that statement for a moment. The man who has been handed the keys to creating a state budget believes that politicians should tell us what to do, but then be allowed to wash their hands of paying for it. How convenient is it to be able to tell other people what to do, then place the responsibility of paying for it on their shoulders?
It is impossible to count the number of ridiculous laws Ohio’s legislators have passed about education; laws that have cost taxpayers Hundreds of millions of dollars with absolutely no return on the investment; and the state budget director finds it perfectly acceptable to think that it’s not the state’s responsibility to “subsidize” them? Funding the expectations you place on others isn’t “subsidizing” them, it is taking responsibility for your decisions, which exactly what he and his political buddies should be doing. But, he’s okay with saddling local taxpayers with the cost of state and federal decisions. Every taxpayer in America should reject that philosophy.
His second indefensible comment was in reference to the state’s method of funding charter schools. When asked why charter schools aren’t funded directly by the state instead of by deducting the dollars they receive from local schools’ budgets, which results in local tax dollars going into the pockets of private business owners regardless of where they sit, he responded that he didn’t agree with that assessment. He doesn’t agree with that assessment? That’s not an assessment. It’s a fact that every competent school district treasurer can prove. For the budget director of this state to act as if local tax dollars don’t fund privately run charter schools shows either incredible dishonesty on his part or blatant ignorance of the school funding process. Neither is acceptable from a man who is handed so much power.
Now, these two incredible and indefensible comments were hidden among many other statements Director Keen made during his marathon discussion of the state budget, so one had to be paying close attention to realize that he uttered them, but nothing he said was more important or revealing than these two answers and nothing should be more unacceptable to every Ohio taxpayer.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.