One-Party Government Undermines Education and the Common Good in Ohio and Wisconsin

First it happened in Ohio.  Earlier this month, Ohio’s governor John Kasich used the power he is given in Ohio law to veto line items in the state budget—which an all-Republican House and Senate had approved.  Kasich’s purpose?  To cut taxes.

In policies that affect public education, Governor Kasich used his line-item veto to cut back the hold-harmless school funding guarantee that has ensured that school districts don’t experience a drop in state funding below what they received last year.  Guarantees are needed when a school funding formula doesn’t work very well.  While many districts protected by the guarantee in Ohio are wealthy suburbs that can replace the lost state funds if the guarantee is cut, others are districts like Cleveland and Warrensville Heights, which have been losing students as the population has been reduced by the foreclosure crisis.  Through the line item veto in the the budget, Kasich also eliminated a state reimbursement Ohio provided for years to school districts to replace a local business tax that the state had eliminated.

Stephen Dyer of Innovation Ohio describes the $90.2 million drop in funding for public schools that Governor Kasich accomplished in one night as he vetoed parts of the state budget: “Cleveland is cut the most at more than $13 million.  There are now 114 out of 612 districts that will receive less money in the 2016-2017 school year than the state sent them last school year… Warrensville Heights—one of the state’s poorest districts—will see a more than $1 million cut.  And it’s worse if you look at how schools have fared since the 2010-2011 budget… If you adjust for inflation, there is now $187 million less money for schools than there was in the 2010-2011 budget and 334 districts receive less.”

As if the Ohio legislature itself hadn’t done enough damage during in its spring 2015 session, when it allowed urgently needed regulations for the charter school industry to go unaddressed, despite that passage of very modest oversight looked promising in early June. The Youngstown Vindicator editorialized: “After all, the charter school industry in Ohio is big business… Yes, there was legislation designed to block poorly performing charters from switching sponsors and poorly performing sponsors from sponsoring other charter locations.  But with the investment of millions of dollars in Ohio’s political process by charter operators and others, only the most naive would believe that any legislation aimed at policing the system would be adopted without a fight.”

And then, just at the end of the Ohio legislative session the lawmakers sneaked in a 66 page amendment to a very positive bill to expand full-service, wraparound community schools.  The bill passed without further debate through the Senate and House, and it was signed by the governor in a matter of hours.  The secret amendment that had been folded into this law established a state appointed emergency manager for the Youngstown Schools and any other district rated “F” for three years.  Ohio’s state appointed emergency managers, like those in Michigan, will have financial control and can even abrogate formally approved union contracts.

Wisconsin’s budget, signed by Governor Scott Walker on Sunday night, does the same sort of damage as Ohio’s.

Governor Walker has the same line-item veto as Ohio’s governor, and he exercised the veto 104 times.  Sadly, in Walker’s case, the Wisconsin governor did not line-item veto several measures the legislature had put in the budget.   The state’s own superintendent of public instruction had recommended that Walker veto a plan to take over the Milwaukee Public Schools with the same kind of emergency manager Ohio just imposed on Youngstown.  And the state superintendent had urged Walker to veto, “a ceiling on special-education funding, a scheme to relax teacher licensure, and plans to expand charter and voucher schools,” according to   Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post. Strauss comments on the measures Tony Evers, the state superintendent, had urged Walker to veto: “A number of the measures had no public debate, and were quietly put into the legislation by Republicans, who perhaps hoped nobody would notice that they were pushing the Milwaukee schools takeover, expanding the state’s voucher program, and adding a new civics test as a high school graduation requirement.”  The state takeover of the Milwaukee Schools became law on Sunday night.

The Progressive reports that Walker signed the expansion of vouchers as part of the budget bill: “The voucher plan that expands statewide with this budget combines tax breaks for private school tuition with budget allocations for vouchers.  It lays the groundwork for two separate and unequal publicly funded education systems in the state: one public school system hamstrung by budget cuts, revenue caps, and increasing demands for accountability and ‘teacher effectiveness,’ and another system comprised of mainly Catholic, Lutheran, and fundamentalist Christian religious schools funded with public money either directly through vouchers or indirectly through massive tax deductions.”

Actually the budget Walker signed cuts neither as much funding as he had hoped from the University of Wisconsin system nor from the public schools. The Associated Press reports that the budget brought forward from Wisconsin’s legislative budget committee increased funding for education above Walker’s original budget proposal last winter, scaling “back a $300 million cut the governor wanted to impose on the (state university) system by $50 million.  The panel also rejected deep funding cuts for K-12 public schools….”  Fortunately Walker signed the budget without cuts as deep for public education or for the state universities as he had preferred.

The legislature, however, had incorporated into the budget Walker’s plan to eliminate tenure for college professors in the state university system. Kimberly Hefling reports for Politico: “Specifically the changes allow the University of Wisconsin system Board of Regents—16 of whose 18 members are appointed by the governor—to set tenure policies instead of having tenure protections spelled out in state law.”  The budget also includes “a measure that modifies state law to specify that regents can fire faculty when they deem it necessary because a program has been discontinued or changed in other ways, not just when a financial emergency exists, as it had been spelled out in state law.”

Yesterday Valerie Strauss re-printed a blog post about the Wisconsin budget from Bob Peterson, editor of Rethinking Schools magazine: “The Wisconsin budget accelerates Walker’s four-year attack on the public sector, in particular the public schools.  Among its measures are an expansion of a voucher program that provides taxpayer funding of private schools and cuts of $250 million to the state’s nationally renowned public university system… There is one common theme to Walker’s budget: underfunding public institutions; expanding the privatization of government functions, restricting environmental protections,and decimating workers’ rights.”

Scott Walker launched his candidacy for President yesterday.  John Kasich plans to announce his candidacy soon.  Beware the policies of tax slashers who eschew regulation of the charter industry, who support vouchers for private and parochial schools, who believe in abrogating democracy with appointed school district emergency managers, and who are willing to cut essential public services instead of finding a way to raise essential revenue.

Walker stands out, however, among all the other Republican candidates for President because of his persistent attack on higher education—his eagerness to slash funding, eliminate due process protections for professors, and even shift the mission of the university from preparing citizens to providing job training.