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Michelle Dillingham describes the privatizers’ assault on the public schools of Cincinnati, the best urban district in Ohio. Cinncinatti has spent years developing its community schools model, only to face the reformers’ thirst for power.
Michelle Dillingham is a resident in Kennedy Heights and a member of the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition.
It’s no easy task providing public education in a large urban school district these days. The landscape is a literal minefield of tough issues: shrinking funding, misleading state report cards, and competition from vouchers and charters. Yet Cincinnati supports our schools. Taxpayers have made huge capital investments in our public schools; support for renewal levies has increased; and enrollment is up. Young families are moving back into the urban core and want their children to attend neighborhood public schools. Yet despite proving the value of our schools and the Community Learning Center model, and even outperforming every other urban district in the state, it seems we are not immune from the charter industry looking to profit.
The well-funded national anti-public education agenda beats a loud and constant drum – “public schools are failures” – and Cincinnati is no exception. Last March the corporate-backed Accelerator Fund made the case, with the help of a “study,” that CPS schools were not offering enough “quality seats” and parents needed more “choice.” The Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition immediately called them out for their pro-charter agenda, which they denied.
Recently Accelerator Fund CEO Patrick Herrel introduced Earl Martin Phalen to a Board of Education committee meeting, where he gave a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation asking the board to sponsor a new charter school. Phalen is a fellow at the Mind Trust organization in Indiana, the same organization that Herrel was hired from. The founder of Mind Trust, David Harris, is a national leader in the school privatization movement. They actively work for charterization of public schools. Phalen’s company, Phalen Leadership Academies, has been working to expand its blended-learning (computer-based instruction) schools in Indianapolis and other cities, and now it has come to our district to do the same.
Ohio is known as the “Wild Wild West” of charter schools, yet despite every study, every scandal and every fraud exposed they simply repackage the same “school choice, failing public schools” narrative and resell it to local school boards time and again.
At the June 13 Board of Education meeting speakers from all walks of life testified for over an hour – parents, social workers, advocates for students with disabilities, community members, teachers and more – asking them to postpone their vote to enter into an agreement with Phalen to build a new charter school on the West Side. Speakers reminded them of the pervasive fraud, waste and abuse among charter school operators, and that they should ask Phalen, at the very least, to share the basic information necessary to ensure our children would receive a quality education.
After some discussion, the board amended the motion to soften the language of the resolution, changing it to “explore the possibilities” of working with Phalen. The last to speak was Board Member Melanie Bates, who explained that the resolution before them was against board policy. Phalen only has one year of data, which is not enough to evaluate the charter school, a requirement of CPS board policy to sponsor a charter school. Despite this noncompliance with board policy, the board proceeded to vote and pass the resolution anyway, the lone “no” vote from board member Bates.
Many were perplexed how was it even possible for the board to move forward with any agreement to partner with Phalen, since they do not meet minimum standards according to the board policy on sponsoring charters? We urge the board of education to follow their own rules, and seek other solutions for a new school on the West Side, not a charter school. Our kids deserve better.
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