By James Lautzenheiser
President of Crestview Employees’ Association (OFT-AFT)
Crestview Local Schools - Convoy, Ohio
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will visit Van Wert County on Thursday, April 20, at the invitation of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten. During her expected visit, Ms. DeVos will tour Van Wert City Schools to see one instance of how public education works in West Central Ohio. This is a great opportunity for our sister district to showcase their ongoing efforts to promote their students’ well-being, develop and enrich their staff, and collaborate with members of their community to grow their district through public education.
What cannot be lost during this visit is the drastic difference in opinion between our local communities and the Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos is an advocate for increased voucher programs and for-profit education centers in Ohio and around our country. Her efforts are masqueraded by a rollout of buzzwords that include grandiose visions of “school choice” for families. What needs to be made clear for Ohioans--particularly those in our region--we already have school choice options for our students, and that Ms. DeVos’ educational suggestions, rooted in for-profit voucher programs, amount to the theft of public education at the expense of our students and district taxpayers.
The responsibility for public education is not something that starts and ends with school administrators, teachers, and support personnel. It is not merely a collection of assessments and checkpoints for students on their way into the workforce or onto further training or education. True “school choice” lies with our many communities across Ohio and our collective capacity to participate in the public education process. It is our civic responsibility to support candidates for public office to supervise, manage and oversee the function and operation of our public school districts. It is our civic duty to ask tough questions of teachers and administrators when reports show that improvement is necessary for our students and communities. It is our civic opportunity to consider tax levies that could be utilized to renovate, improve or retask elements of a school district for the constantly evolving mission of public education for our children and their eventual children.
School voucher programs in Ohio and around the country are not all connected to the type of for-profit scheming that we have seen in Michigan and in other parts of the country; however the recent rollout of voucher proposals in Columbus and around our nation by those that share the DeVos mindset for community destabilization cannot be tolerated by our Ohio citizens. We cannot rob a community trust for an unchecked, enterprising gamble. If we are not vigilant, our state coffers will be emptied of revenue initially aimed at supporting our public school districts and redirected at commercial “academies” and “schools” associated with benefitting shareholders rather than developing students and communities for a better tomorrow in the State of Ohio.
We have always had a choice in Ohio, and many of us have used that opportunity to be involved in our local school districts as much as possible. This new “choice” is a carefully packaged and convenient “fox in the henhouse” that is designed to prey upon parents’ desires to promote a better future for their children. The only obvious choice that we have in Ohio is to continue to invest in our local districts, and work together to make sure that they are in a position to meet the needs of our students and communities in the future. While it is important that Van Wert and other communities in Ohio and around the country welcome Ms. DeVos with an open-mind, we must be ever diligent to avoid the cheap parlor tricks associated with the branding of new, “school choice” rollouts by the current Secretary of Education and state legislators that might introduce her brand of education.