Commentary

The gerrymandering of public education

August 22, 2022 3:20 am

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Ohioans believe that democracy should allow everyone to have a say in the future of our local communities and our state. We all want to elect leaders who represent our values, no matter our race, background, or zip code.

But over the course of the past year, Ohioans have watched as certain elected leaders have defied the state’s Supreme Court, forcing us to vote in unconstitutional districts for state and congressional elections. The lawlessness that infected that process has now contaminated the State Board of Education.

This blatant, lawless gerrymandering not only undermines democracy but threatens the ability of Ohio families to be fairly represented on the State Board and to access an honest education for their children.

The State Board includes 11 elected members and eight appointed by the governor. By law, those 11 members represent districts made up of three state Senate districts that cannot be split between districts. The law also mandates that these Board districts provide both rural and urban representation and be as compact “as practicable.”

The new Board districts drawn by Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this year fail all three criteria.

This matters because certain legislators and State Board members have been attacking efforts to provide Ohio children an education grounded in truth, facts and diverse perspectives.

It started a year ago, when legislators introduced House Bills 322 and 327, with language imported from an extremist national agenda, that amount to gag orders limiting what educators can teach about race, sexuality, gender, religion and history.

Months later,  a majority of the State School Board voted to rescind a transformational resolution condemning racism and advancing equity in education. The attacks continued this year when two legislators introduced House Bill 616 attacking freedom to learn in Ohio and labeling our lives and experiences as “divisive concepts”.

The immediate solution is to follow the law and redraw State Board districts to minimize the impact of gerrymandering that’s been baked into this year’s state legislative districts. But neither DeWine nor Secretary of State Frank LaRose has been willing to give Ohioans fair, legal maps.

As a result, Ohioans who want to serve on the State Board were forced to file as candidates by Aug. 10 for districts that clearly break the law and will not provide fair representation. This is particularly true for Cuyahoga and Franklin counties, where the new State Board districts dramatically reduce the opportunity for Black Ohioans to be represented.

Barring action by the governor or secretary of state, Ohioans who value honest education need to pay close attention to the five State Board seats on the ballot in November.

District seats 2, 3, 4, 9, and 10 are currently filled by members who voted to repeal the Board’s anti-racism resolution and continue to devalue the importance of student well-being and personal development.

Ohioans have the chance to vote for candidates who want to make sure every child has the opportunity to get a strong foundation in a high-quality public school in their community. 

While it’s important to vote for State Board candidates who believe in the value of an honest public education, it’s not enough.

Ohioans also have to pay closer attention to what’s happening at their local school boards, some of which have been passing resolutions that mimic the extremist language of the state bills, like Forest Hills. The state plays a big role, but many decisions are made at the local level where engaged families and residents can make a big difference.

Our leaders may be willing to risk democracy, but Ohioans can still help ensure a better future for everyone. It’s not too late.

Ms. Peeples is the founding director of Honesty for Ohio Education, a statewide coalition of more than 40 partners and hundreds of individuals who believe that every child deserves a high-quality education grounded in truth, facts and diverse perspectives.

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Cynthia Peeples
Cynthia Peeples

Cynthia Peeples is the founding director of Honesty for Ohio Education, a nonpartisan statewide coalition that believes every child deserves an honest high-quality education grounded in truth, facts, and diverse perspectives. In her role, Cynthia advocates for honest education at the Ohio Statehouse, State Board of Education, school districts, and higher ed campuses. She serves on the state board of the League of Women Voters Ohio, leads the League’s Northeast Ohio REAL TALK program, co-chairs the Akron NAACP ACT-SO program, helps build capacity for cultural proficiency and inclusive education in her local school district, and serves the Akron arts community as a board member of the Akron Civic Theatre.

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