Public Forum Discusses Columbus Education Commission’s Recommendations
Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2013
The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus recently hosted a public forum on the Columbus Education Commission’s thorough and substantive report of April 30, 2013. (See http://reimaginecolumbuseducation.org for the full report.) The assumption of the League’s Civic Education and Engagement Committee was that some of the report recommendations would raise questions as well as evoke challenge and discussion. And, indeed some have. Initiated by Mayor Michael Coleman and guided by Eric Fingerhut, some 25 business, community, educational and other leaders, the commission report (FutureReady Columbus) made a number of far reaching recommendations which would have a significant impact on the Columbus Public School system. The ambitious goal is to assure student success and the economic health of Columbus through the efforts of the entire community.
The forum drew some 25-30 interested citizens and League members on May 29th to hear from and engage in discussion with: Mark Real of Kids Ohio and education policy advisor to several Ohio governors (filling in for Eric Fingerhut, Director of the Commission, who was unable to participate because of a funeral), Karina Brown, Board member of Clintonville Go Public, a parent group, and Rhonda Johnson, President of the Columbus Education Association and also a Commission member. In preparation for the discussion, the CEEC encouraged the panelists to move beyond simply describing the report’s conclusions to considering its implications, hence the forum title, Columbus Public Schools: Where Do We Go From Here? What Will Be the Impact on Our Children?
Some recommendations such as 1) available and affordable pre-school to insure Kindergarten preparedness, (2) recruiting and retaining high-performing teachers and principals, 3) supporting state of the art teaching tools and materials and 4) partnering with the community and enlisting the support of parents to serve the whole child appear to have broad strong support. The main challenge identified by forum participants to implementing these recommendations was where to obtain the necessary funding for them and how to address the issues of poverty that affect many families. A number of the participants at the forum expressed their concern about the track record of charter schools and the recommendation to attract high performing charter schools and fund them with monies raised as part of school levies in a newly created a public-private partnership. They talked about the importance of improving the neighborhood school as a focal point for community activities. In response to the question, “What makes you think this report is likely to bring more results than past reports that sit on a dusty shelf?” Ms. Johnson pointed out the commitment of the Mayor to this effort through his inclusion of educators on the commission and in focus groups. She also cited his support for appointing a Mayor’s Office Director of Educational Improvement that demonstrates the seriousness of commitment to enacting the recommendations of the Commission.
Dave Patton, Forum Moderator and Co-Chair of the League’s Committee on Civic Education and Engagement, asked whether the participants would welcome additional forums on topics related to the Commission report recommendations. There was significant interest in continuing the lively discussion. Since implementation of some of the recommendations will appear on the ballot in November as part of a Columbus Public Schools levy and there is legislation pending in the General Assembly to implement others, the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus is likely to sponsor other forums to keep voters informed about the issues. Stay tuned!