As We Winter in Valley Forge, Take Heed

silent stream

silent stream by Steve Wall

As an elementary student, I was fascinated by the Revolutionary War. Of particular interest to me was when General George Washington’s Continental Army spent the winter of 1777-1778 encamped in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Aside from a handful of skirmishes, armies during that time period generally took the winter off, leaving major battles to be fought in the more seasonable weather of spring, summer and fall.

With the British kept at arm’s length by the winter weather and strategic location of Valley Forge, Washington’s army could engage in what today would be called “professional development”. No doubt when military genius Baron Von Steuben arrived to help Washington’s citizen-soldiers, regroup and retrain, he began by revisiting their most recent battlefield accomplishments.

The summer of 2011 is our winter at Valley Forge. We, the educator-activist division of Ohio’s Grand Army of the Middle Class is experiencing much better weather than our Washington’s army did during their stay at Valley Forge, but are just as tired as they were. As we regroup and retrain, it’s important we revisit our accomplishments in the last battle to prepare for the next one.

The Battle of Ohio’s Biennial Budget was a long and bloody fight. Even though state tax revenue exceeded projections and questions arose about the facts used to calculate Ohio’s $8 billion deficit, state legislators still deposited nearly a quarter-billion dollars into Ohio’s rainy-day fund, and cut $780 million in state funding to K-12 education over the next two years.  Despite these heartbreaking losses, we were able to achieve some significant victories before our army marched off the battlefield.

The final version of the budget removed much of the language that was written by charter school lobbyists. Among other things, it’s easier to close low-performing charters, sponsors are now held to higher standards for the charter schools they sponsor and for-profit companies cannot start their own charter schools.

Provisions cloned from SB5 were removed from the bill, including: a prohibition on bargaining teacher salaries, a moratorium on issuing continuing contracts, performance-based layoffs and teacher assignments as well as highly restrictive language on teacher termination and just cause.

Thankfully, the budget bill eliminated the 20 percent required increase in employee pension contributions, increased Educational Service Center funding from previous versions of the bill, maintained gifted funding at 2009 levels and restored $200 million in K-12 funding over the next two years.

As Washington’s troops left Valley Forge in the spring of 1778, they held no illusions of a quick victory over the British. More than 70 major battles and skirmishes would be fought by the citizen-soldiers over the next five years before Washington’s war-ending victory over Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.

As the educator-activist division of the Grand Army of the Middle Class emerges from our summer encampment, we must be ready for the Battle of the Bill. We must be ready to discredit all of the pro-SB5 propaganda that will be shoved down Ohioans’ throats. Make no mistake—we will be involved in many skirmishes and battles before our long war is over.

It’s relatively quiet right now, too quiet for me. I yearn to hear the drums and bugles giving us our marching orders for the Battle of the Bill. I’m tired of this waiting. I’m ready to march. I’m ready to fight. I’ll see you on the battlefield.

By Phil Hayes, Columbus Education Association

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