Debbie Bernauer speaks in support of public education.
Debbie Bernauer is a fervent defender of the public common school. One of her recent speeches is attached.
As a retired teacher, former school board member, and lifelong public education advocate, I have had a front row seat to the unfounded attacks on education over the last several decades. These claims have had little to do with the educational system itself and everything to do with privatizing education. That’s where the dark money comes in. Make no mistake. Charter schools and the educational voucher scheme, fueled by the Koch family and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are intent on undermining public education. In the last several years, they have enabled the pro-voucher and school privatization movement to achieve critical mass.
In order to prove that public schools were failing, they vilified teachers and came up with an arbitrary testing regimen that reduced a child’s knowledge to one test score rather than using a variety of metrics. The tests led to a narrowing of the curriculum as schools, teachers, and students were evaluated on these tests. During this time, testing companies flourished and profited. Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of Fox News and owner of Pearson Testing and Learning, was one of the biggest beneficiaries. When it became apparent that children born into poverty were the most likely to have the lowest test scores, they allowed charter schools to provide a choice for children in our urban districts beginning with The Cleveland Plan.
Charter schools by Ohio law are referred to as ‘public schools’, but they are publicly-funded, tuition free schools which are privately-operated. They were conceived in 1997 as ‘laboratories of innovation” but quickly turned into something much different. Most of Ohio’s charter schools, known as community schools in Ohio Revised Code, have become non-profits in name only. They are run by those who cash in on educating kids. We don’t hear much in the news about charters since the ECOT scandal, but The Ohio Department of Education included 47 different for-profit operators running charter schools in its 2021-2022 report. Charters are alive and well in Ohio! In fact, Governor DeWine’s budget proposal has some bonuses for charter schools, such as providing an extra $3,000 for each economically disadvantaged student and doubling per-student building funding to $1,000 per student for ALL charter schools – including on-line charters which don’t even have buildings.
Vouchers for private and religious schools have also been offered as an alternative to public schools even though The Ohio Constitution has some of the strongest language in the country specifying that state funds are for public (common) schools only. Article VI, Section 2 of the Ohio Constitution reads, “The General Assembly…will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state: but no religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this state.” Ohio’s first attempt at school vouchers began as a temporary pilot in 2006 and is now a refund and rebate school privatization program that reimburses families who never intended to send their children to public schools. Private school vouchers have ballooned out of control, initially taking away $42 million of public-school funding in 2008 and expanding to $350 million in 2022. Currently, SB 11, the backpack bill, is being considered in Ohio. Passage of this bill could take one billion dollars from Ohio’s public schools. And for what? Study after study has shown that public school students frequently outperform students taking vouchers and attending charter schools in their own districts.
The only way to stop this trainwreck and uphold Ohio’s constitutional promise to keep public tax dollars out of private schools is through litigation. That is why over 210 public school districts in Ohio have signed on to the Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit challenging EdChoice Vouchers for their unconstitutional use of state school funds for private school tuition. I have been very disappointed that the BBH School Board has not signed on to the lawsuit yet despite multiple requests. When we let vouchers siphon funds from our public schools, our kids do not have the resources they need to succeed, and that hurts us all. EdChoice Vouchers for private schools mean more school levies and higher property taxes. State funding is not only unconstitutional, it is unsustainable for Ohio’s taxpayers.
But even more important is what our public schools represent. I have always believed that public education is the cornerstone of our democracy, because our schools have always been at the center of our communities bringing everyone together. Public schools serve everyone regardless of skin color, religious preference, abilities, or disabilities. They are a place where our children can learn not only the basics, but also to care about others who may be different from themselves. Isn’t that what we need more of in our country at this time? If we are to continue as one society, we must have one publicly funded educational system.
Learn about EdChoice Vouchers: An Existential Threat to Public Schools