We are all interconnected

I am grateful to Cleveland Heights City Council for adopting Resolution 15-2020 at its Feb. 18 meeting. By approving the resolution, city leaders took a stand on school funding and vouchers—issues that have critical ramifications for the health and well-being of our community.

The resolution states, “This Council demands immediate financial relief be provided to all Ohio school districts impacted by EdChoice vouchers and that the state not deduct EdChoice payments from local school district funds.” It also calls for the legislature to remedy “its school funding system as ordered by the Ohio Supreme Court.” 

The resolution does not have enforcement powers, but it makes clear that current state policy has a negative local impact and that community leaders object. Silence is tacit agreement.

Whether or not we use the services of our public schools or any other public institution, we all benefit from their success. The community is the beneficiary of our public institutions. That’s why we fund them with public dollars and elect a school board and a city council to ensure that public purposes are served. 

In approving this resolution, council members showed that they understand that public education is an asset to our community and that funding public schools adequately is essential to their success. Council members also know that the local property tax cannot be public education's only funding source. 

The Ohio General Assembly has an obligation to make the funding system fair and adequate, and insisting on vouchers undermines both. The deduction system that puts voucher costs on the shoulders of local taxpayers is a violation of the state’s legal obligation to fund an equitable system. This isn’t just an intellectual idea or an “I wish” kind of thing. The legislature’s failure to own its misdeeds creates real damage to communities, including ours. Think about the rancor and mistrust that has infected the levy fight and the fallout that we must now live with. Thank goodness our local elected officials understand this and are willing to stand together to demand better state policy.

Council Member Melody Hart has made a point of understanding school issues and funding as part of her orientation to public service on Cleveland Heights City Council. She has reached out to school supporters and school leaders to learn more and to find a way to support better understanding and better policy. I’m hopeful that this kind of mutual understanding among both governing groups will continue.

The relationship between city council and the board of education is not always easy, because policies for each of them have serious implications for the other. Remember that the school board had to give up revenue for the Top of the Hill proposal to go through, but both bodies have increased their interaction and are working toward a stronger sense of shared purpose. This is essential to all of us.

I appreciate that our local elected leaders have now joined state Sen. Sandra Williams and state Rep. Janine Boyd in calling for funding changes, especially related to vouchers. As I write this column, the house majority and senate are deadlocked over who should fund vouchers. Will 10 of the 17 state senators who oppose direct funding change their minds and provide relief to local communities and more than 400 school districts?  

I hope that as communities across the state experience the fallout of bad public-education policies, local leaders will rally with a united voice to demand change. The interests of Ohio’s communities should certainly take precedence over the anti-public-school interests of a few state senators.

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser is a 40-year resident of Cleveland Heights and the former director of Reaching Heights. She is active in the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 4:15 PM, 04.02.2020