Through the past eighteen months, as politics have invaded Ohio classrooms, I’ve been proud to be a voice for public education.
Last night, I ventured into a whole new realm of public speaking, when I addressed the Ohio House Subcommittee on educational funding, at an open hearing in Lima.
It was scary.
I was on a stage, telling the story of my school district’s financial hardships, to a group of nine State Representatives. Although I had written and rehearsed my remarks, I had no idea what their reactions would be. I had no idea what follow-up questions they might ask.
All I could do was tell my story.
I told the panel about my small community which prided itself, above all else, on great public schools. I told them about the cuts, the concessions by teachers and other employees, and the impact on students. I told them about trying to maintain the excellence, despite the deep cuts in state funding.
Then came the Q and A…
I answered questions specific to my district, as well as questions about levies and tangible personal property tax. The one that was toughest to answer came from Representative Vernon Sykes. It wasn’t a three-part, loaded question that took a computer to get the right answer. He simply asked me, with all the cuts and stretching of dollars, do I feel like my district is offering the same quality education as they were before.
My simple answer was “no.”
I didn’t tell Representative Sykes, the rest of the panel and the audience that answer outright. I talked about how hard teachers are working to fill the gaps and keep up their high standards with increased class sizes. I admitted, though, that we couldn’t work at that frantic level year after year or we’d burn out. I told him that last year’s test scores, which came after huge cuts and retirements and personnel shifting throughout the district, probably didn’t look that different than the scores from years past, but that I worried the scores could show decline over the next few years, as the full effect of the cuts play out. I told him that, to deal with the reductions in staff, our high schools adopted an “open campus” policy, where students can arrive late and leave early. I told him that the open campus has changed the mindset of some of the students; they aren’t as excited about pep rallies because it means they can’t go home as early as usual. “This may not reflect in any test score,” I told Representative Sykes, “but it diminishes the school community, which is an important part of the educational experience.”
After my lengthy response to his question, I did give Representative Sykes the sad and simple response, “no.”
I felt terrible saying that, and it’s been bothering me ever since I said it. It doesn’t bother me because it was a mistake to say. It bothers me because it’s true. We teachers work as hard as we can, but we need adequate and fair funding to help us.
I hope Representative Sykes and the other members of the panel heard the pain and reluctance in my voice as I responded “no.” I hope that my testimony, along with the testimony of other teachers and administrators last night, sticks with the Representatives and compels them to advocate for new policies that increase revenues for public schools across the state.
Reflecting on my testimony last night, I realize that, even though I had to respond to tough questions, it was a truly rewarding experience. I had a chance to share my and my colleagues’ story with people who are in positions to make decisions that impact public education. In the months to come, as November 6 gets closer and closer, I hope to continue to be a voice for public education, making sure that the voice of the over 120,000 teachers in Ohio’s public schools is heard.
By Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association