This is the calm before the storm

Post-election season commentaries in the media made much mention of a Republican “storm” or “hurricane” in Ohio as well as on the federal level. But this was not the storm; nor was it the hurricane. My friends, the perfect storm is on the radar. It is bearing down on us and will arrive in January.

When Governor-elect Kasich takes office in January, he is faced with figuring out how to plug our state’s $8.1 billion dollar biennial budget hole. During the campaign, he was careful to offer no ideas or plan on how to fix our budget.

Kasich did, however, make a promise during the campaign regarding education; he said he’d scrap the Ohio Evidence-Based Model for school funding. Millions of Ohio students will feel the effect of the governor-elect’s promise if he keeps it.

In order to make that change, legislation must be passed by both the Ohio House and Senate and then signed by then-Governor Kasich. He has made his intentions clear; it is time that we as educators make ours clear to the legislators of the Ohio General Assembly.

In the spring of 2007, Governor Strickland submitted his first biennial budget to the Ohio General Assembly. I had the opportunity to give testimony to the House Budget Committee along with several other teachers from Columbus. Our mission was simple: explain to the legislators the importance of increased school funding and increased charter school accountability.

So many people wanted to testify, the folks at the statehouse set up an overflow room. Charter school students crowded the room, bused in by their schools’ for-profit management companies. The students all had t-shirts bearing the name of their schools. I remember how it sickened me that those schools used their students as emotional props for the legislators. Not one student testified; but the employees of the for-profit schools did.

I had to wait until the next day to give my testimony to the committee because so many people wanted to be heard. After waiting a few hours, my group was called to speak. I went first.

I had the attention of the legislators from the very beginning. I spoke of what it was like to be teacher in Columbus, of the challenges we faced.

I delivered a message from one of the senior students in my Government class. We had been using the same Government textbooks since 1998; and my student, Ruthie, constantly complained about it.

“These books,” she said to me often, “tell us Clinton is our President, that he is in the middle of his second term. There have been two presidential elections and one impeachment attempt that the book doesn’t have.” I could say nothing to Ruthie in class to massage her indignation. I figured that the best tonic was to take her message to the Budget Committee.

After I finished, the other teachers from my group gave their testimony. When we finished, we were exhausted but hopeful after speaking our hearts and our minds. Then one of the Representatives from Kasich’s party indicated they had questions. For me. My heart skipped a beat.

“Mr. Hayes,” he began, “as a social studies teacher, do you want updated textbooks with current government figures in them?”

I was flabbergasted. I know what a leading question is and how to detect it—but this was not a leading question. This was an actual, honest-to-goodness question.

I answered in the affirmative and gave my explanation. He asked me several more questions, but the years have made them fade in my memory.

That exchange after testimony made me realize two things. The first is that particular legislator didn’t know what teachers needed. The second is that he had the courage to ask in front of his fellow committee members to get the actual information.

Those two lessons are critical as we head into budget season at the statehouse. We must make sure that the legislators who will be in office when these critical decisions are made hear our voices. If it’s standing in front of a committee giving testimony, calling them on the phone, meeting with them in their office or writing a letter, we must do everything we can to protect education at all costs.

According to law, the Governor must submit a budget to the General Assembly by March 15. The perfect storm is coming; I refuse to evacuate. We must fight this storm with everything we have, because if we don’t the day after the storm education in Ohio could be declared a disaster zone.

By Phil Hayes, Columbus Education Association

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