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School choice rally foreshadows education funding changes

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa

Nearly 200 people, including Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, rallied for school choice inside the Valentine Theatre Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013—the same day Ohio’s governor announced an overhaul to the state school funding formula.

The National School Choice Week rally in Toledo was part of a whistle-stop tour that stretched from Los Angeles to New York. Ohio was seen as organizers as a crucial place to make the point that education is “not one size fits all,” because the Cleveland school vouchers case two decades ago went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and became the case that made much of the school choice movement possible.

“We need to stand and fight shoulder to shoulder,” said Virginia Walden Ford, a parent consultant with the Arkansas Parent Network. “I'm going to stand and fight for every child.”

That is exactly what Rochelle Gould has done on behalf of her three grandsons, each of whom attends a different type of school that she believes is the best option for them individually. One attends St. John’s Jesuit High School. Another is a student at Mary Immaculate School as a recipient of the Northwest Ohio Scholarship Fund. The youngest grandson attends MLK Jr. Academy, a Toledo Public Schools magnet school. One of the older boys has also attended a charter school in the past.

“They have three different personalities, so I had to find three different schools,” said Ms. Gould, a retiree who has legal custody of the boys, now ages 10, 13, and 15.

“They're doing wonderful. No child should be left behind and mine were not going to be. I would take a beat-down if I even thought one of my children was not being properly taught. They've come a long way. They're all honor roll students. It's all about the books in my house.”

The Toledo grandmother told the crowd that she must pursue a proper education that fits each boy individually- whether it's at a public, parochial, charter, or magnet school. Rally organizers also publicly support virtual schools and homeschooling options for children where appropriate.

John Jones, former president/CEO of the Greater Toledo Urban League and a board member of the Ohio Council of Community Schools, echoed the message of Ms. Gould, telling the crowd they must keep up the fight for individual choice of where to educate their children.

“I realize how important it was for my parents to have a choice in where they educated me and my brothers and my sisters,” said Jones, who graduated from Central Catholic High School in his youth. “Education is the quintessential discussion that we need to be having right now in this day. If we don’t get education right now, we’re going to be paying for it for decades.”

Supporters in the audience were given yellow scarves to wear as a symbol of the fight to maintain school choice and to demand it where it doesn't now exist.

“There is no point to us standing around wondering why are our children struggling with this or that when we won’t take the time to fix education,” Jones said. “We need to make sure every child gets the right education that is quality, in the right environment without regard to where they live or what they live in. I know what it’s like to live in poverty and I understand that discussion. But it does not matter if you are in poverty-- you should be able to receive a quality education.”

Many see the Toledo metro area as the cradle of the state’s charter school movement about 15 years ago. Many of those first schools are no longer operating, but some have survived lean times and political efforts to regulate them out of existence.

“You do know that quality education is not housed solely in traditional public. It is not housed solely in charter schools. It is not housed solely in private schools or parochial schools,” said Jones. “Quality education is shown across all of these gamuts—and it is our job to provide a quality education for our children.”

Many school choice advocates see their movement as at a crossroads across the nation. Backers point out that American schoolchildren trail students in two dozen other countries in math and more than a dozen in science.

“Keep pushing. Now’s not the time to get weak at heart. Continue to challenge every single person who would challenge you and would say you don’t have the right to choose,” said Jones. “You do. Continue choosing. Just make sure you choose wisely.”

Mayor Bell remarked that he was pleased to see “the unity in the room.”

“If we are going to change our city, change our region—education is the number one thing that we have to deal with,” said Mayor Bell. “Our whole economic development in the future is dependent on how well our schools are doing today.”

The mayor also made it clear he “is not aligned with any particular school."

“If it’s private and it’s working, that’s great. If it’s public and it’s working, that’s great. If it’s charter and it’s working, that’s great. If it’s a magnet school and it’s working, great, too. If it’s home training, that’s great,” said Mayor Bell. “But my concern as a mayor is that all of these kids are getting an excellent education.”

The mayor explained his Future of Toledo effort has an education component strictly devoted to “figuring out how we deal with education in our community.”

“We understand that our young people are our future, our key,” he said. “We’re on the other side of the mountain. They’re coming up the mountain. We’re trying to develop this so that when they’re done with their schooling, they’ll still want to be here. It is the number one focus for me in this year of 2013.”

School choice advocates have another supporter in Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who proposed increased funding for an expansion of the state's Ed Choice school voucher program. Starting next year, kindergarteners from families who earn up to 200 percent of poverty level would be eligible for vouchers to attend charter or private schools. The following year, first graders become eligible-- taking their public school funding with them.

“Seeing this many people in this room, all talking about education, gives me hope—a lot of hope that we’re going to be okay,” said the mayor. “I can’t remember walking into a room where there’s been this much unity on education among so many diverse groups of people.”

The rally also included a performance by the Central Catholic High School Glee Club and a martial arts demonstration by students from the Toledo Preparatory and Fitness Academy.

Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/05/13 19:07:27 -0800.




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