Section: News

On the Record: Michael Charney

On the Record: Michael Charney

Cleveland public school teacher, author and national speaker Michael Charney talked on the state of Ohio educational policy on Monday in Higley Auditorium. Charney has 30 years of experience creating coalitions of students, parents and teachers to have their voices heard in politics. He spoke about a law passed recently in Youngstown, Ohio that funnels public funding toward private education.

Can you give a summary of what is happening in Youngstown? Why should this situation matter to Kenyon students?

Youngstown’s law is part of an Ohio plan that would replace the elected school board, eliminate part of the teacher union contract and pay for students to attend private schools in school districts where the kids do lousily on standardized tests. The new Ohio law is aimed at appointing a czar of education who would have dictatorial control over what takes place in the Youngstown schools without any accountability from the parents, from the teachers, from the students or from the electorate. This potentially could spread to other school districts across Ohio so that, if Kenyon students are concerned about democracy and public education in Ohio and across the country, they need to understand what’s going on in Youngstown and potentially across Ohio.

East Knox recently declared a state of fiscal emergency. Moving forward, what do you think the community should do? What role should Kenyon students play in this process?

To get out of fiscal emergency, either the District has to dramatically cut its expenditures –– which I’ve been told they have –– by eliminating some of the building blocks of education (meaning physical education, art, music, after-school activities) or increasing their revenue. Motivated East Knox high school students should spend the next year learning about the effect of fiscal emergency and then spread the word about their own education so that, shortly, when the next property tax levy is voted upon, the students can play both the educational and outreach role to increase revenue. They should also confront their local state representative and state senator with the reality of their lack of a good, solid education and pressure them to change some of the funding systems from the state level. Kenyon students could help provide some of the factual background so that these high school students are informed. They could make the phone calls and arrangements and the kids could provide the on-the-spot testimony of their classroom and school life.

What do you think of Kenyon’s relationship with East Knox?

If done right, the relationship could be incredibly mutually beneficial. First, the students might get more personal attention in their academic and personal development. Education is a labor-intensive process. More labor is usually more helpful. But Kenyon students can learn so much from the students and from their experiences. I’ve been told some people look at Kenyon as a bubble outside of the real world. Volunteering at local schools can help break down some of those barriers. If done right, it can be mutually beneficial.
To ensure that students don’t enter with a know-it-all arrogance, possibly the community leaders, student leaders and professors could offer a course or workshops to new volunteers. In fact, they should get more in-tune by meeting community leaders. I’m sure community leaders in East Knox would be more than happy to offer a tour of their communities to Kenyon students who work in the schools. Parents would love to tell their personal and family histories to some of these Kenyon students. There are many avenues where there could be mutual learning.

Should students be able to vote for the levy even when they wouldn’t be paying for it?

I think school levies are a statement of a whole community on how the whole community will invest in the common school and in public education. Anyone who is a registered voter should be allowed to vote.

What do you think is the most important issue facing Ohio education policy today?

In the short term, I think it’s the rapid growth of dismantling public education under the rhetorical falsehood that these private schemes are really helping children, that, without the level of public support and community engagement for public schools, they cannot succeed. On the long-term, I think the major issue is if there will be a real commitment to educate children of color and low-income kids so that we won’t continue to have a stratified society reflective of a massive wealth inequality that exists in Ohio and across the nation.

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