I am normally not the kind of guy who likes to say, “I told you so,” but …
In September 2015, I wrote an article during the Republican presidential debates about the double-speak in which all the candidates were engaging regarding their stance on the importance of “local control” in public education. In that article, I encouraged readers not to be fooled by the candidates’ claims that they believed decisions should be made at the local level, because it is what they said after that vague pronouncement that provided a window into their true feelings.
The debates were actually pure political theater. As if following a script, every candidate, especially the governors who had their own special interests in mind, pretended as if they believed educational decisions were best made by you and me. If you weren’t the cynical old man that I have become, you might have actually believed what they said; you might have fallen victim to them pretending as if they really trust that you and I have the intelligence to decide what is best for our children.
But, they don’t believe that for one moment. They had no intention of letting us control our own destiny, so, if you listened closely you heard that their definition of “local control” was that the state government would wrest control from the feds, which would then open the door for state lawmakers, aka politicians, to tell us what to do even more than they do today. Of course, they wanted the feds to butt out. That would give them the power they so desperately crave, and our own Governor John Kasich was smack dab in the middle of this charade.
In keeping with their normal thought process, while they won’t admit it, what they really want is for us to blindly accept their superior intellect, sit down, shut up, and do as we are told. Am I the only one who bristles at that show of disrespect?
As if on cue, Ohio Representative Bill Reineke from Tiffin recently introduced a bill, known as House Bill 512, which will do exactly as I expected, which is to hand the keys to the future of public education to the governor. He proposes this new set-up by creating another bureaucratic governmental agency (because we know how well those work), the Ohio Department of Learning and Achievement, which will include the Ohio Department of Education, Ohio Department of Higher Education, and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation. Since this new committee will be a Cabinet level position, it will report to the governor. And, there you have it; it will report to the governor; in Ohio’s case, a governor who has done nothing positive for public education or children during his entire tenure. Nothing.
If this bill goes through, the hijacking of public education by politicians will be complete. This is particularly galling when our governor and legislature have demonstrated a level of incompetence that is staggering when it comes to developing policies governing education.
You’ve got to hand it to them, though; if nothing else they are persistent and patient. This political hijacking began in earnest back in the 1990’s when Governor Voinovich turned the State Board of Education from an all-elected board to a board that was partially elected and partially appointed by the governor. Apparently, he found the democratic process of electing folks to represent us as a little too cumbersome for his liking, so he did what politicians do. He changed the rules to meet his personal and political agenda, and he gave himself power he didn’t deserve. Sadly, we citizens were either too busy or distracted to really care, so his move didn’t sound the alarms it should have sounded. If Representative Reineke’s bill goes through, at least in the world of public education, the democratic process will effectively have been shot dead.
Reineke’s speech announcing his bill was a political masterpiece, because it checked all the public relations boxes that politicians check when rolling out another boondoggle. He found some supportive educators and businessmen who were willing to stand by his side, all of whom have been fooled into believing that he has found the answer for all our problems. His speech included all the correct and meaningless buzzwords like “alignment,” “education and career readiness,” “accountability,” and “21st century economy,” to name a few. His announcement checked all the same PR boxes that every other political speech has checked when the speaker has promised us that their idea would save the world even as it did no such thing. Frankly, it makes me sick.
So, should this bill pass, the neutering of the State Board of Education will be complete and any hope we have of engaging in meaningful discussions about how to help children succeed will be eliminated. Educational discussions will devolve completely into political rhetoric and decisions will be based on political agendas rather than on sound research. It has been a long, slow, arduous process, but they have finally achieved their goal of snatching a little more power from our fingertips.
Anyone who was paying the slightest bit of attention could have seen this one coming from a thousand miles away. But, that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.