Ted Strickland fails to take Obama's advice

When President Barack Obama wants to prove he is a centrist, and not afraid to tell his own supporters they are wrong, the one thin reed he has is some nice words on education policy.  True, he doesn’t have much of an actual record of bucking the education lobby on policy (see Freddoso for example) but he does have a history of rhetorically supporting charter schools and merit pay; two things that most unions oppose vehemently.

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland is also a down the line liberal who pretends to be centrist, but he has failed to emulate the leader of his party on the issue of charter schools.  Instead of embracing charter schools – called community schools in Ohio – he has launched an all out attack on them via the state budget.

What is remarkable is that the state’s editorial boards – who have criticized charters in the past and are no bastions of conservatism – have responded by calling on Strickland to listen to Obama and stop his partisan attack on the schools.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer makes the case well in their editorial President Obama says let charter schools bloom; so should Gov. Ted Strickland:

Cleveland is fortunate to have a number of those thriving, innovative schools. Cleveland’s Citizens’ Academy and the Entrepreneurship Preparatory School are educating students who had been floundering in the city’s public schools.

Somehow, though, their academic success hasn’t impressed the governor. Relying on scant evidence — especially for someone touting evidence-based school funding — Strickland seems to believe that charter schools can be funded on the cheap. The governor doesn’t seem to realize — or perhaps doesn’t care to admit — that most have to do major fund-raising from donors who are a lot less wealthy in this economic maelstrom.

Strickland’s budget recklessly slashes charter school funding 20 percent. Online charter schools suffer even deeper cuts. Unlike traditional public schools, charters would receive no additional funding for teacher pay increases, even though charters often serve the same poor, urban youngsters.

Strickland complains that for-profit companies that manage charter schools are blinded by the money, showing little interest in teaching children. But he proposes to slash away at every charter school — good and bad. That’s irresponsible.

A process is already in place to close charter schools that fail in their mission. The many good charter schools in Cleveland support this process, and it would make a great deal more sense if the governor supported it, too.

They conclude:

Strickland should think twice before ordering every child out of these little lifeboats, because some of them would certainly be forced back aboard sinking ships.

When it comes to understanding the importance of charter schools to many Ohio students, Strickland clearly has a lot to learn. He should ask the president for some tutoring.

Ouch!  Sad but true.

Think it is just Cleveland?  Nope, how about the Akron Beacon Journal.  The ask a very good question: Why has Ted Strickland taken aim at charter schools that are meeting his goals for public education? Despite their skepticism about many charters they recognize the what these budget proposals really mean:

If student performance in charter schools, for the most part, has shown little if any improvement on the regular schools, a number among them, indeed, are living up to expectations as models of educational creativity and achievement. Cleveland’s Citizens’ Academy, Intergenerational School and Entrepreneurship Preparatory School come easily to mind.

And truth be told, the presence of charter schools has a been a prod for public schools, driving them to take innovative measures they otherwise had no reason to consider. Many urban districts now run charter schools of their own, for example.

In that context, Strickland’s budget for charter schools in some instances defies the policy priorities he has defined for primary and secondary education.

[. . .]

A decade’s experiment in charter schools has produced such models as Citizens’ Academy and E-Prep that bear replication. They are succeeding at the creative approaches to learning Strickland says all children deserve. The challenge Ohio must meet (a challenge reiterated by President Barack Obama) is to create incentives for excellent education, in public as well as charter schools. It will be Ohio’s loss if Strickland’s charter school proposals result in slowly but effectively starving to death excellent schools along with the mediocre and the failures.

Moving on from the Northeast to Central Ohio, we have the Columbus Dispatch.  They too wonder why Strickland can’t see what Obama seems to understand.  They argue that Obama endorses new ideas in education; Strickland should do same:

President Barack Obama’s speech on Tuesday to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Miami showed a willingness to break with Democratic orthodoxy by embracing two good ideas long-opposed by teachers unions: merit pay for teachers and charter schools.

Obama earned boos on the campaign trail at their very mention. His continued support is good news for a system that has struggled to improve youngsters’ academic performance.

Strickland not only declines to support merit pay, his proposed budget slashes funding for charter schools, which would make them even more vulnerable to budget woes.

On Tuesday, the same day that Obama spoke of the need to embrace reforms, dozens of charter-school supporters filled a Statehouse hearing room to ask legislators not to approve the sections of Strickland’s budget that would gut charter-school funding.

The governor’s plan would remove charter-school funding from the so-called foundation formula, by which regular public schools are funded, making charter funding as vulnerable as any other line item. The amount he provided for charters, assuming their enrollment stays the same or increases next year, equates to at least a 20 percent cut from the foundation formula they received this year.

Strickland also would arbitrarily ban all for-profit charters, even though some of the state’s most successful charters are operated by for-profit companies, including one in Dayton that is the highest-rated public elementary school.

Moving West we have the Dayton Daily News (Governor’s shot at charters hits Dayton).  They also recognize the governor is aiming at closing some of the best schools in the area:

Gov. Ted Strickland must be stopped in his drive to put charter schools out of business.

His proposed budget would cut funding for the state’s 330 charter schools by about 20 percent overall, which, for many, would mean they’d be done.

The schools already get far less in taxpayer money than traditional public schools. That’s the price they pay to buy autonomy to operate free of sometimes stifling bureaucracy and rigid union contracts.

In Dayton, the cut would be a travesty for the charter schools that are besting or equaling Dayton public schools. Especially tragic would be the potential double-whammy that the Dayton Early College Academy would suffer.

Let’s be clear: If the governor gets his way, this special school that is putting Dayton on the map nationally in the school reform movement is history.

I know what you are thinking.  Why am I quoting liberal editorial boards praising Barack Obama?  Because it points out the utter laugh-ability of Strickland’s centrist image and his education reform claims.

If Barack Obama and editorial boards across the country can see that this budget is a ham-handed direct attack on charter schools at the expense of reform and the most vulnerable children what does it say about Strickland that he refuses to back down?  This is plain and simple a sop to the teachers unions who support him.

He might even hope that GOP led Ohio Senate removes the provisions so he does have to face the political fallout.  After all, he did much the same thing last budget (attacked charters but did nothing when the GOP took those proposals out).  Or maybe in what is bound to be a tough re-election bid he is determined to keep labor on his side?

Whatever the motivation, Strickland’s proposals are bad for education in Ohio, bad for future reform, and a disaster for the students of Ohio.  In at least this one instance we can all agree that Strickland should quit kissing up to labor unions and listen to President Obama.

Strickland has an easy chance to shore up his centrist fig leaf credentials by following Obama’s lead.  Knowing Governor Strickland, however, I am not holding my breath.