The common good on display
On April 28 the Cleveland Orchestra was performing works by Anton Dvorak, one of my favorite composers. On that same night, a combined performance by the Heights High Symphony and Symphonic Winds had “Feeling Good” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” on their playlist.
Heights High and Severance Hall are equidistant from where I live, and both are luxurious spaces. I chose the Spring Finale Concert at Heights.
I’m never disappointed by these concerts. Music directors Daniel Heim and Nicholas Marzuola crafted a creative program, and the students looked like they were having fun. They played with confidence and ease. A vocal performance by Libby Warren was magic, and Micah Belcher’s senior solo on trombone was skilled. The audience was enthusiastic and receptive, and I had the added good luck of winning the 50-50 raffle.
In Cleveland Heights, we are surrounded by cultural opportunities. Unlike large swaths of Ohio, we don’t have to rely on our high school for entertainment, but it’s a wonderful choice! No matter where you live in Ohio, our public schools are special venues for community life. Heights High was just that kind of place that night.
I enjoyed sitting in an auditorium full of my fellow residents, sharing an experience and connecting with strangers. The students entertained us, and we showed them that they are important members of our community. The concert provided audible evidence that our teachers and kids are doing their jobs. My kids graduated from Heights in 2000 and 2003, but I feel like these young musicians are my kids, too.
The audience roared with support at the end of the performance when the graduating seniors were invited to the front of the stage. A good friend burst into tears as the four years of a music-centered high school experience came to an end for her son. They were tears of gratitude, pride and also sadness as the inevitable separation and transition into adulthood takes place. She will undoubtably be back next year to support the new crop of musicians.
We have a system of public education because we all benefit when our youth thrive. While this feels like an abstraction, attending a school event makes it tangible. Because public schools are designed to include everyone, they help unite our diversity and celebrate our shared self-interest and responsibility for each other. It’s a good reminder of what the common good looks like and means.
This month the Ohio legislature is in the final stage of crafting the biennial state budget. It has a chance to finally bring desperately needed increases in state funding to the system of public education that we are part of. Legislators could finally carry their fair share of the cost of providing high quality education to schools throughout Ohio. If the House version of the budget survives, our district will have an increase in state support of more than $1,200 per student. It would really make a difference!
Public education used to be a popular nonpartisan idea, but the legislature’s supermajority seems determined to put individualism ahead of the common good. Lawmakers are holding the education of 1.4 million public school students hostage so that 169,000 private school students, most of whom attend a religious school, can have the public pay for this unaccountable luxury.
Both Senate Finance Committee Chair Matt Dolan and Senate President Matt Huffman are products of private education. They are key players in the budget process. Call them now and tell them to make public education their funding priority. Urge them to visit their local public schools to see why.
Susie Kaeser moved to Cleveland Heights in 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights, and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters. A community booster, she is the author of a book about local activism, Resisting Segregation.