COLUMBUS -- Former Congressman and Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich kicked off a series of town hall meetings Monday, calling out lawmakers for pumping billions of dollars into charters at the expense of traditional public schools.
Speaking during a Statehouse press conference, Kucinich announced stops in Dayton, Columbus, Parma and Elyria to discuss state's charter schools and their impact on kids' education. He plans to use the information garnered from those and other sessions to compile a report, to be presented to the legislature early next year, with recommendations for reforming the system.
"What will Ohioans do when they find out that state politicians are getting millions of dollars in campaign contributions from private, for-profit charters, and let the charters take money from public education?" he asked. " What will Ohioans do when they find that money they voted to give their local public schools is replacing money taken out by charter schools?"
The meetings are helping to fuel speculation about Kucinich's 2018 ballot intentions, potentially including a run in the Democratic primary for governor. He was mum on that subject Monday -- "I'm not here to talk politics," he responded when asked.
Instead, Kucinich focused on charter, criticizing lawmakers for allowing failing community schools to take funding from conventional ones. He said he plans to "make educational funding a central policy issue in Ohio."
"My question is, since truly everything is private about charter schools, shouldn't their funding be private and not public?" he asked. "This Ohio private charter school system is a legal boondoggle supported by billions in public funds with little transparency, accountability or government oversight."
He added, "Six hundred charters have been granted, 400 are left, 200 have closed due to ineptitude, low performance or corruption, but not before walking away with millions in tax dollars originally intended by Ohioans to go to public schools."
Ron Adler, president of the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, countered such assertions, however, saying that district schools receive more in state funding per pupil than charters, and parents should be able to make the choice to send their children to other schools.
"It's an unfair system, nobody likes it, but it is more unfair to charter schools," he said. "There have been over 70 new laws or changes affecting charter schools since charters came into existence in 1998."
He added, "It's all about school choice. My question is, why are parents removing their children from district schools to a school of choice? We're avid believers in school choice, and we think that parents should have the right to make the decision, whether it's for academic or safety, which is a huge factor, particularly in the inner city schools or because a charter school focuses on special needs" or a particular subject, such as math, science or art.
Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Fordham Institute, added in a statement, "Congressman Kucinich's tour is nothing more than naked, political grandstanding. His speech made two things abundantly clear: He's clearly campaigning for something, and he's willing to say just about anything to bolster his chances. His comments were especially disappointing in regards to his errant contention that charter schools are private schools and his ignoring of the comprehensive charter school reforms included in House Bill 2."
Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.