There was a palpable tension in the room. It was clear that this was not a crowd packed with only partisan Kasich supporters. Ohio Democratic Party leader Chris Redfern, always ready with a lengthy, rhetoric-laden critique said this:
“Taxpayer dollars should not be used to promote the agenda of charter school fat cats at an invitation-only event sponsored by the corporate backers of John Kasich’s anti-middle class policies. To say the least.""Invitation-only event" might be stretching the truth a bit. I received an e-mail about the event from Americans for Prosperity Ohio. It said the event was free, but an RSVP was required. I responded to let someone at Gov. Kasich's office know that I would be attending and added my son's name as well, though he hadn't technically been invited. Not a problem. Then, at 4:45, right before the event, I sent another e-mail adding my son's girlfriend. Again, not a problem. They even managed to have a name tag ready for her when we arrived at 5:45! So it was clearly not a closed event, though the invitations may have initially been sent to those supportive of school choice.
The movie "Waiting for Superman" follows the saga of several children trapped in failing public schools in some of the poorest, most crime-ridden cities in the U.S. These children are in desperate circumstances: Daisy, Emily, Francisco, Bianco, Anthony. Unlike my children, who have had every advantage in life, these children have futures that are bleak, hopeless.
As we were being introduced to these children and getting a glimpse of the warehouses that pass for schools in their inner-city neighborhoods, the narrative was suddenly interrupted.
The union protesters thought this would be a good time to march through the halls shouting their anti-reform slogans. It was very disturbing that while people inside the auditorium were in tears over the plight of the children pictured above, union activists were demanding that we maintain the system that is failing these precious children.
Just as a side note, I have been very frustrated by the misinformation being spread about SB5. It's not extreme. It's not "busting the unions," it's not eliminating pensions for government employees, it's not eliminating "tenure" (continuing contracts) for teachers who currently have that status. If you haven't already done so, I would encourage you to read the American Policy Roundtable's Frequently Asked Questions about SB5. This non-partisan guide answers many of the questions that people on both sides of the issue have been discussing in a fair and non-emotional format. Please share it with others.
The movie was disturbing on so many levels. It's heartbreaking that in the year 2011 we are still sentencing millions of children to spend their formative years in schools from which they will not graduate. In one school, in the past 40 years, 60,000 students have passed through and only 40,000 have graduated. What happened to the other 20,000?
I was surprised to learn that the problems are not just in lower income, inner-city schools. Many affluent schools "track" students, meaning someone decides at a young age, which children are college material and which are better suited for vocational school. Those who are not deemed college material are put on a track that makes it almost impossible to later change tracks, sealing their fate at a young age. They receive a far different education than their more academically gifted peers.
The movie highlighted charter schools and teachers with innovative solutions that were succeeding in the worst, most poverty-stricken areas of the country. But they've met with resistance from teachers unions and those who consider school reform - school choice - to be a turf war. And the children pay the price. It's disgusting and cruel to make these children enter a "lottery" for a 1/732 chance to attend a decent school. No 2nd grader should have to suffer the fate of being labeled "not accepted" and forced to return to the dropout factory. I'm in tears again just thinking about the sad faces of the children and the helplessness of their parents.
Watch the trailer for the movie here:
After the movie, Gov. Kasich and Michelle Rhee answered questions from the audience. The session was broadcast to screenings of the movie across the state.
Michelle Rhee is a rock star. Rhee, who is hated by the Left, looked chic and beautiful in a tangerine dress. She was featured in the movie as a tough innovator of the D.C. schools who was blocked at every turn by the powerful teachers unions. Last night she proclaimed proudly that she was a life-long Democrat but insists that school reform and school choice is a bipartisan issue, saying, "I'm agnostic as to the delivery method." In other words, she doesn't care how or where a child receives an education, as long as it's a good one. If ever there was a bipartisan issue, this should be it.
This was the first time I have heard Gov. Kasich speak in person. He was very likable and passionate about this issue. I mentioned that there was tension in the room. When Kasich gave his opening remarks, it was obvious that some lines were designed to elicit applause from the audience. Nothing. Dead silence. I was all ready to clap but got the same feeling I get in our Baptist church when I get the urge.....clap cramp. It was an interesting group dynamic. It was as if we sensed the tension, understood the powerful feelings of disagreement bubbling just below the surface, but somehow came to a tacit agreement that we would remain civil and polite. Somehow, "spiking the ball" at a Kasich applause line didn't seem appropriate. Nor did booing. While the rabble was roused outside, inside the auditorium it was a good moment for Ohio. We were all there because we cared about children.
Whether or not you're a fan of Gov. Kasich, you have to give him credit for sticking his neck out and nearly exhausting the audiences' supply of questions. It was about a 50/50 mix of questions from supporters of school choice and his reforms and from those opposed. All were civil and polite. He threw a good number of the questions to Michelle Rhee, who is clearly the expert on the topic. Kasich stuck to the questions related to Ohio's specific reforms and those related to the union reforms and budget cuts. He didn't flinch or back down, but stressed that he wanted to hear from teachers and work with them to create a fair way of evaluating them.
An interesting tidbit that came out of the session was that Rhee convinced Kasich to include the performance pay for teachers in SB5. He was going to scrap it, but after some heated debates with Rhee, realized it was necessary for true reform.
At the end, everyone stood and gave Gov. Kasich and Michelle Rhee a round of applause. I heard people around me, who didn't seem inclined to agree with Kasich on much, expressing their approval for the event and Kasich's demeanor. I don't think he made any (new) enemies and probably gained a few (perhaps reluctant) supporters. And if anyone came away from that movie not wanting to fight for school choice, they are completely heartless.