Newman: The Backpack Bill is bad for education in Ohio

·3 min read

When school started this past fall, my daughter and I agreed to walk to school each morning as much as possible. We are lucky enough to live less than a mile from our elementary school, and we have a safe path to traverse each morning on our journey.

These 20 minute walks have proven to be valuable time for my daughter and me. We talk about what’s happening in her classroom, things that make her nervous, her friends, and most importantly – what’s for lunch. As winter has settled in, our thin skin has halted our walks for a while, and I truly miss that time.

Michelle Newman, Newark, is a member of Ohio's State Board of Education.
Michelle Newman, Newark, is a member of Ohio's State Board of Education.

How does this tie to what’s happening at the State Board of Education? Right now, the State Board is tasked with one of its most important responsibilities – selecting the next Superintendent of Public Instruction. The reason this is so incredibly important is that based on upcoming legislation and current conversations in both the House and Senate about education within our state, there is an intense push to privatize education in Ohio. For instance, while the school funding formula was revamped in 2021 and has now gone into effect, potential legislation like “the backpack bill” has been introduced and seems to be garnering a fair amount of chatter.

The Backpack Bill sees school funding like each kid has a backpack of money, and it should travel with them wherever their families want them to go. Advocates of this funding mechanism tout the freedom of “school choice.” Parents should be able to pick where they want their child educated, and their tax dollars should follow. While at first glance this sounds reasonable and logical, the ramifications if enacted would be incredibly detrimental to the fabric of our communities.

Public education was designed to form educated citizens and provide community socialization. The public school experience educates children to be successful and contributing members of our communities. The end “consumer” of graduates is the wider community. The stronger each student is, the stronger our communities can be. Through the public school experience, students meet and interact with people that hold different values, look different, talk different, and challenge the views outside our own front doors. Through this experience, the intent is to develop well rounded graduates with a wealth of experience and knowledge.

The fact is, the idea of having one’s mind exposed and opened to new ways of thinking has become something to fear, not something we strive for. We’ve heard public comment at the State Board that some parents are angry when their children question anything said at home. Families have asserted that the role of public schooling is to merely educate on “the basics” while protecting their individual family’s values - silencing anything in the classroom that may question the values or beliefs of any given individual. Not only is that impossible, but it is also a complete anthesis as to why public education was formed.

My fear is that if Ohio moves towards a private model, families will choose schools that are protected thought bubbles and leave public schools behind as the choice of last resort. Kids could end up in schools with only those like-minded in an effort to stay in a protected echo chamber without ample opportunity to be exposed to the robust diversity of our communities.

As we select our next superintendent, it is my intention to ensure we select a candidate that believes in the full possibilities of our public schools and will work to advance its excellence. Kids in public schools should be exposed to a robust and honest curriculum, develop the skills to think critically, and learn to have honest, productive conversations in both the classroom and outside its walls.

The State of Ohio can be the best if we decide to do so. And personally, I really want to keep walking my daughter to school knowing that the public options in our neighborhood are fully supported and advocated for by those at the top of the ladder.

Michelle Newman is the 9th district representative on Ohio's State board of Education, which includes all of Licking County. She can be contacted at michelle.newman@education.ohio.gov.

This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Newman: The Backpack Bill is bad for education in Ohio

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