As a first time attendee of OEA lobby day, I can now say I have fought the good fight, by trying to explain to my elected officials what it is like in Ohio’s classrooms. I must say I had the good fortune of lobbying with seasoned OEA members from Summit, Stark and Wayne counties who had done their homework. We were mothers and fathers with children at home, retired teachers with grandchildren, parents of private school students, and members of both political parties; an eclectic group to say the least with the same message: public schools must be adequately funded!
Our day started at the OEA building at 9:00 am where we heard from out-going president Patricia Frost Brooks, Director of Government Relations Ron Rapp, and other OEA Lobbyists who advised us on important talking points and developments of the budget bill, HB 59. We covered the education components in the bill, and how they changed from the House to Senate versions. Armed with arguments and handouts, we left for the statehouse with a grueling schedule, meetings scheduled every hour, or half hour until 6:00 pm.
The thing that struck me the most about our legislators was that they were all good listeners. Representative Schuring had an aide take notes for further investigation of our suggestions. Senator Oelslager patiently answered our questions as to why school vouchers were being expanded and let us know that they would definitely be included in the final bill, despite their costs and the fact that private schools do not have oversight in the same way that public schools do. Republicans like Senator LaRose claimed they were expanding school funding more than ever has been done in the past 10 years. I suppose if you ignore the fact that school funding was so drastically cut under Governor Kasich’s first budget, then one could actually make that claim meaningful.
Another thing that struck me is that lobbying is not just about what you have to say, but what you can learn about what actually occurs during legislative sessions where arguments are hashed out. For example, more time was spent on arguing whether Planned Parenthood should be defunded, than any other aspect of the budget. Most of our Democratic legislators’ amendments were tabled. Even school safety, just five months after the Sandy Hook massacre, didn’t get a response from Republicans when Senator Schiavoni introduced an amendment for funding safety initiatives at $35 million over two years. Tabled! Not important!
I learned more about what is on the political horizon than I could ever have learned from a news source. And what about the plans for Right to Work legislation? Look for passage during Kasich’s lame duck period, whether he is elected for a second term or not. Now that our number of days to gather signatures have been drastically restricted under SB 47, getting something on the ballot to counter it will be difficult. Right to work will be back; all the more reason why all teachers must attend a lobbying day at least once a year. Makes plans now to just do it!
By Susan Ridgeway, Wooster Education Association