In previous articles, I have suggested that both state and federal politicians are masters of illusion when it comes to crafting new laws. Many even hire “spin doctors,” who release carefully worded public relations statements that make the laws they are creating sound much better than they actually are. These releases are supposed to convince us that what lawmakers are enacting makes all the sense in the world and will protect us from whatever the latest boogeyman is they have created.
This is a very effective strategy as long as constituents blindly believe what they are told and don’t take the time to look below the surface for the truth. It is when one digs through the fluff that the spin quickly loses its luster, because laws rarely do to what their creators say they are going to do. That is what makes it an illusion.
One of the more recent examples of Ohio political tomfoolery is Senate Bill 216 (SB 216), which is commonly referred to as “The Public School Deregulation Act.” In SB 216, Senator Matt Huffman from Lima has identified one hundred education mandates that he admits “… take up an absurd amount of teacher and administrator time and labor, which could be used more appropriately to deliver quality education to Ohio’s children.”
Senator Huffman’s characterization is certainly accurate, and since the mandates he has identified are a drain on both human and capital resources with no return on the investment, he has proposed that they be eliminated. While it makes perfect sense to eliminate laws that are both ineffective and wasteful, his proposal has sent many of his legislative colleagues into apoplexy, since they have long been convinced that we educators are blathering idiots who couldn’t figure out how to tie our shoes if there wasn’t a law in place telling us how to do so. Suffice it to say this attitude probably explains why his law has moved forward at a snail’s pace. Butting out of our lives just isn’t in their DNA.
Because eliminating bad laws is so rare, SB 216 has garnered widespread positive attention, because of the perception that it reduces big government, and it would, if that was the end of it. But, as is always the case in the political world, nothing is ever as it appears on the surface. If one makes the mistake of looking at his proposal in isolation, one might be fooled into thinking deregulating public schools is a new wave of political thinking, but it is always a mistake to view political mandates in isolation. Let me explain.
As a school superintendent, one of the services I receive is access to periodic updates on current legislation. The last one I received was dated March 22, 2018, and it listed all the educational bills of interest that were introduced during the 132nd General Assembly. Sure enough, right there on the front page was SB 216. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it was included with a list of fifty-eight other laws designed to regulate public education that have been introduced during this same time period. You read that right; 58 proposed bills in addition to the “deregulation bill,” and that represents just the 132nd session. I’ll give you two guesses what happened in the 131st and 130th sessions in addition to all the sessions before them. There is nothing being done in Columbus that remotely resembles deregulation.
Unless you are fortunate enough to have that information periodically dropped in your lap like I do, you would never know that the “deregulation bill” is engulfed by “regulation bills,” because it’s not like the political PR machine is hotly publicizing that tidbit of information. If you think that isn’t by design, I have a little swamp land I’d like to sell you.
I have to admit, if you have a demented sense of humor, there is something hilarious about a synopsis of a public school deregulation bill that is included in a document that includes the synopses of 58 other bills that are designed to regulate public education. How priceless is that? But, I stopped being humored by this political deceit a long time ago.
What this tells us in no uncertain terms is that the notion that the Ohio legislature has any interest in deregulating public education is an illusion. While they may publicly say one thing, their actions say quite the opposite. They have every intention of replacing one set of poorly conceived laws that “take up an absurd amount of teacher and administrator time and labor” with another set of poorly conceived laws that “take up an absurd amount of teacher and administrator time and labor,” and that has nothing to do with deregulation. Deregulation is an illusion, it’s disgusting, and don’t think for a minute that this occurs only with respect to public education. They do the same thing with bills that directly influence your life, too.
The old adage, “Actions speak louder than words,” epitomizes politics in this country. Never believe what they say. Watch what they do. That, as legendary radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.