Here’s a prediction if the Ohio Legislature revokes the law that changed the way the academically challenged Youngstown City School District is governed: Students will flee the urban district in droves – just as they did before House Bill 70 was enacted.
The legislation to dismantle HB 70 – it gave rise to the so-called Youngstown Plan – has passed the Republican- controlled House and is now in the Senate, which is also dominated by the GOP.
Sponsors of the repeal bill played up the fact that it had bipartisan support. Youngstown Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan was one of the early advocates of the effort.
Why? Because Lepore-Hagan is under the illusion that returning control of the city school system to the elected school board is in the best interest of the children.
She couldn’t be more wrong.
Assuming that the Senate conducts hearings on the House measure – it is, after all, the deliberative body – Republicans would do well to recall the words of former Republican Gov. John Kasich, who pushed for a change in the governance of the Youngstown system:
“We’ve seen some economic rebirth [in the state], but those schools over there have failed for nine straight years. Frankly, I’m a little disappointed in some of my Democrat colleagues who did not support the rescuing of the Youngstown schools.”
Kasich had asked several Mahoning Valley business and community leaders to develop an alternative to the school board and superintendent running the district.
“People still ... connected to those schools are trying to stop the reform from going into place,” Kasich said of the Youngstown Plan.
The plan has two key components that have caused members of the board of education and the teachers union to launch court battles in the last couple of years: policy making is now in the hands of a statutorily mandated academic distress commission; a chief executive officer has replaced the superintendent and has more power and greater decision-making authority.
“What do they want to do?” Kasich asked about the critics of the Youngstown Plan. “They want kids to continue to fail? ... People ought to be outraged when kids are trapped in failing schools. It’s a disgrace.”
That persistent failure led to state-declared academic emergency.
It should be noted that Kasich made it very clear he would not abide by any legislative attempt to repeal or drastically change HB 70.
“Anything that would come to my desk that would have anything to do with eroding this plan, I would veto,” he told The Vindicator.
During last year’s race for governor, Republican Mike DeWine hedged when asked if he would veto a repeal measure. DeWine, state attorney general at the time, said he had some misgivings about HB 70 wresting control of academically failing school districts away from elected school boards.
But former Gov. Kasich’s use of the word “disgrace” in reference to children being trapped in failing schools, aptly described the situation in Youngstown prior to passage of HB 70 in 2015.
Consider these facts:
Key leaders resigned – superintendent, deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent for Human Resources.
The district lost about 20 percent of its staff due to resignations and retirements.
Of the approximately 10,000 children living in the district, more than 5,000 shunned city schools to join adjacent systems or other educational programs, such as charters and home schooling. (NOTE: In the past couple of years under the Youngstown Plan more than 200 students have returned to the city district.)
Youngstown students had a graduation rate of “F” for FOUR years in a row.
Only 1.1 percent of the Class of 2013 was ready for college work.
Less than 1 percent of students earned college credit via dual enrollment or Advanced Placement Tests.
On its report card, Youngstown received an overall grade of F; the lowest 20 percent of students, a grade of F; gifted students received a D; students with disability, a D.
The district prior to 2015 had a total budget of $127 million. Its per-student operating spending was $13,114, compared with the state average of $9,189.
That was the legacy of the elected board of education at the time the Youngstown Plan was enacted.
The first CEO hired by the academic distress commission was Krish Mohip, a veteran educator from Chicago who began his assignment in the summer of 2016.
Mohip’s immediate order of business – while ducking bullets from school board members, local and state teachers unions and special interest groups – was to develop an academic recovery plan.
It took Mohip nine months to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the district, including evaluating teachers, administrators and other staff, and to create a blueprint for not only improving the academic performance of students, but providing educational and noneducation services that enhance learning.
The academic distress commission and the state department of education approved the recovery plan.
It is being implemented in stages, which is why it’s ludicrous for critics to argue that the state takeover of the district has been an abject failure.
While the House chose to ignore the fact that Youngstown was imploding academically when HB 70 was enacted, the Senate has the responsibility to slow down the legislative process and to find out exactly what progress has been made in the last couple of years.
Returning the district to elected school board control will once again put the children of Youngstown in harm’s way.
Repeal of HB 70 will mark the beginning of the end of the Youngstown City School District.
As for Lepore-Hagan and other Democrats who are reveling in the House’s repeal of HB 70, here’s a reality check: The GOP has played you like a fiddle.
Consider this: The biennium budget making its way through the General Assembly has millions of dollars more for charter schools.
Why? Because Republicans are betting that public school students in cities like Youngstown will be easy pickings for charter school operators when the exodus occurs with the repeal of House Bill 70 and a return to the Stone Age of public education.