On Feb. 1, as Black History Month began in Ohio’s classrooms and virtual classrooms, Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled his proposed budget for the next two years, which continues the education funding policies that systematically underfund public schools that educate Black students and even shift some of that funding away toward unaccountable, for-profit private schools.
Black History Month is an important time for our nation’s educators to focus their curriculum around the contributions that African Americans have made in government, industry, art, science, literature, and every field of human endeavor. However, we do a disservice to our students if we don’t also teach about the harder, more painful history of slavery, segregation, disenfranchisement, and racist violence, and if we do not weave it into our everyday curriculum as deeply as it is woven into the fabric of our country.
Even then, we are not telling the full story if we teach about these topics as relics of the past, as dark chapters of our country’s past that have ended. Racist structures in our society didn’t cease to exist when the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were ratified following the Civil War, or after Brown vs. the Board of Education desegregated schools, or after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or even after Barack Obama’s historic election.
Each of those events has been an important step along the way, but as we are reminded all too often, the vestiges of white supremacy live on in our current institutions. We see it in the over-policing and incarceration of Black, brown, and immigrant communities, we see it in our city neighborhoods that were shaped by redlining, and we see it in Ohio’s school funding system.
When we teach Black history, educators can make the connections about how the racial injustices of the past have turned into the systemic racial disparities of the present, and how we can demolish the underpinnings of injustice. There is no better place to start than with our broken school funding policies which underfund and segregate schools with large populations of Black students.
In Ohio, we underfund schools in Black communities with a school funding formula that was found unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court more than 20 years ago because it relied so heavily on local property taxes that it denied an equitable and adequate education to students in low-income areas.
We segregate schools in Black communities with voucher and charter policies that divert students and drain funding from local public schools. Often cloaked in the language of racial justice, vouchers and charter schools have the opposite effect when put into practice. The NAACP has often opposed these policies because they “divert much needed funding for public education to private or charter schools, thereby further dismantling the viability of the public education system and limiting the number of children who would be afforded the opportunity of an adequate and effective education.”
This vicious cycle of underfunding schools in communities of color, and then punishing them for not being able to meet their students’ needs by underfunding them further, must end. We must stop pitting parents and communities against one another, and instead renew our commitment for high quality public schools for all Ohio students.
Last year, the Ohio House passed the Fair School Funding Plan with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, yet the Senate refused to take the issue up. The Plan would have put Ohio on a six-year path toward equitable funding of public schools in Ohio, and would have immediately ended punitive and harmful deductions for vouchers and charter schools from local public school funds.
This would ensure that public school districts receive money only for the students who are enrolled to attend but without the added penalty of deducting money due to students opting for private or charter schools. These changes would strengthen schools in Ohio’s cities and in our rural areas, giving students from all backgrounds increased opportunities. Despite the Fair School Funding Plan receiving an 84-8 vote in the House, the Ohio Senate allowed the bill to die without even receiving a vote.
DeWine had the opportunity to take the hard work and bipartisan agreement for this new school funding formula and insert it as a framework into his budget proposal. Instead, his proposal continues the status quo which is actively undermining our ability to provide an equitable education.
As educators, we can not teach Black History without also being activists in our own realm, fighting for an education system that gives every child, no matter their race or where they live, equal access to a high quality, free public education.
Melissa Cropper is the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT), which represents 20,000 members in 55 locals across the state, including public school educators and support staff, higher education faculty and support staff, and public employees. Before being elected state federation president in 2012, Cropper was a library media specialist in Georgetown, Ohio, for 14 years, a longtime president of the Georgetown Federation of Teachers, a member of the OFT executive committee and the chair of the federation’s retirement committee.