In an article published early last Wednesday afternoon as election returns were being reported, the Plain Dealer‘s Laura Hancock published (or see here) a story about a race that had sadly been under-reported during the lead up to the election:
“Voters elected three candidates to the Ohio State Board of Education on Tuesday who oppose fights over LGBTQ students in bathrooms and attempts to control how American racism is discussed in social studies classes. The Ohio Federation of Teachers and the Ohio Education Association contributed tens of thousands of dollars to help the campaigns of former state senator Teresa Fedor of Toledo, Tom Jackson of Solon and Katie Hofmann of Cincinnati, who each won their races against more conservative candidates… The unions were involved in recruiting the three candidates. Fedor and Hofmann are each former teachers and members of OFT. Jackson, a businessman, is a volunteer coach at Solon High School and serves on the Solon City Schools Strategic Planning Team… ”
In the context of today’s big money politics, the unions made a modest financial investment. Hancock adds: “They also gave their candidates a big fundraising boost. In addition to writing checks for each candidate’s campaign—OEA gave $13,700 to each candidate’s campaign and the OFT gave $12,000 to Fedor and Jackson and $13,700 to Hofmann—the unions spent at least $100,000 to get them elected through an independent super PAC called Educators for Ohio… ‘The super PAC spent money only on the three state school board candidates, said Scott DiMauro, president of the OEA. ‘The three individuals who won those contested races are all strong advocates of public education… I would anticipate they would work closely with other members of the state board who have been pushing back on some of those (culture wars) attacks.'”
Thank you Ohio Education Association and Ohio Federation of Teachers!
When public school supporters saw Hancock’s article last Wednesday, many were grateful to learn that someone had made a strategic effort to turn the tide in the Ohio State Board of Education, a body which has for two years been trapped in a morass of culture war conflict. Eleven members of the 19 member Ohio State Board of Education are elected, with eight members appointed by the governor. In 2020, the Ohio State Board passed an anti-racism resolution, which was overturned by the conservative Board majority in 2021 and replaced with a resolution condemning any teachings that ‘seek to divide.’ Governor Mike DeWine subsequently forced the resignation of his appointed members of the Board who had voted to keep the original anti-racism resolution, including Laura Kohler, the State Board’s elected president.
The culture wars have continued. Hancock explains: “More recently, conservatives on the board have been pushing a resolution that would urge local school districts to defy Title IX protections for LGBTQ students that are being proposed by President Joe Biden’s administration, potentially putting federal money for free and reduced lunch and special education in jeopardy. The resolution remains under consideration. Board members have spent 10 hours taking public testimony and discussing it since September.” Yesterday, the State Board of Education’s executive committee voted to send a version of the resolution endorsing state-sponsored discrimination against LGBTQ+ students back for a final vote at today’s scheduled November meeting of the full Board.
On top of all this has been the gerrymandering mess. Again Hancock explains: “Every 10 years, the boundaries for the Ohio State Board of Education shift when Ohio Senate boundaries are redrawn. Gov. Mike DeWine changed state school board boundaries Jan. 31.” But, “DeWine didn’t change the school board map, even as state mapmakers shifted the Senate’s boundaries found to violate the Ohio Constitution, and on July 14, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose notified county boards of election to use the Jan. 31 changes DeWine made. Candidates for the state school board, which are nonpartisan, had to file to run for the seats Aug. 10, which left just a few months to campaign.” Added to these problems, DeWine’s new State School Board district map does not comply with Ohio law. It also radically shifts the communities and school districts located in each candidate’s district, which meant that for the November election several candidates had to run in areas where they were not well known.
Hancock quotes Melissa Cropper, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers describing the challenge the teachers unions undertook at the last minute to encourage pro-public school candidates to run: “It really was a crunch in trying to get quality candidates to run… We had incumbents we know that were not pro-public education, who were in my opinion, pushing these culture war issues at the state board level. And it was just critical to us that we could get them out of there. So we definitely were looking for people who understand public education, who have been engaged in conversations about equity, social-emotional learning, the whole child approach, all that things that are really important to us.”
To understand the depth of concern many in Ohio share about the recent culture war imbroglio in the State Board, it is helpful to read a formal statement released last month by four dismayed elected members of the current State Board of Education—Christina Collins, Meryl Johnson, Michelle Newman, and Antoinette Miranda. They wrote in opposition to the proposed resolution the Board is currently considering which would urge school districts to oppose federal Title IX rules:
“In an unexpected, politically charged action, a member of the State Board of Education, Brendan Shea, introduced his ‘Resolution to Support Parents, Schools, and Districts in Rejecting Harmful, Coercive, and Burdensome Gender Identity Policies.’ The resolution not only advocates for state-endorsed lawlessness; it also works to codify the exact discrimination that Title IX was developed to prevent… Our entire educational system must be founded on respecting, nurturing, and supporting children. EVERY. SINGLE. CHILD. We are not and should never be in the business of selecting which child is worthy of protection and instruction. This resolution is a political grenade thrown into an arena that has already been overwhelmed with more politics and culture wars than actions that actually improve education. Beyond the moral reprehension of this particular resolution, the time spent on an issue that reflects the unrealized fears of adults will only harm our most vulnerable children while distracting us all from real issues of educational urgency.”