About 100 parents and other concerned citizens gathered in Akron on Sunday to learn from a labor-backed advocacy group how the proposed state budget could impact local public schools.
Stand Up For Ohio shared testimonials about school funding, charter schools and the “schools-to-prison” pipeline during the rally at Buchtel Community Center.
The event was the first of an eight-city Access to Opportunity Tour launched by Stand Up For Ohio. The labor organization formed in 2011 to campaign against Senate Bill 5, which would have limited collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Akron schools’ state funding — provided by state, local and federal taxes — is diverted to privately run charter schools that provide little transparency on how public dollars are used, event organizers, parents and Akron school officials in attendance said.
Charter schools were launched in Ohio in the late 1990s to give parents of students in failing districts another option.
The budget bill, undergoing a second revision in the Ohio Senate, appears to expand funding for charter schools.
“And it’s devastating children and families,” said Jennifer Toles, Akron organizer for Stand Up For Ohio.
The eight-city tour will touch on a different topic impacted by the state budget at each stop through Thursday. Issues range from Medicaid expansion to education to immigration reform to racial inequality in cities like Akron.
As the foundation for opportunity in life, organizers said, education was the first and will be the last topic of the tour.
“It’s all interconnected,” Toles said.
Raising a black child in an urban setting like Akron — where black students are twice as likely to live in poverty and be disciplined nearly four times as often as white students — “strikes fear” in her heart.
She said her son, a first-grader at David Hill Community Learning Center in Akron, spent March in and out of suspensions.
It all started, she said, because her son’s teacher gave him a crayon when she had run out of pencils. Her son began drawing instead of working, then broke the crayon in half after being scolded and threw it across the room, she said.
That action is considered a minor assault under the zero-tolerance policy, which triggers automatic recourse.
Toles draws a connection between a lack of funding and her son’s behavior.
Without funding, teachers are not equipped with the necessary resources, she said. And without the necessary resources, attention and interest falter, then grades and graduation rates.
The ratio of disciplinary actions per 100 black students in Akron — 187.6 — is the highest of Ohio’s urban eight cities, the closest being Toledo at 123.2 disciplinary actions per 100 black students. Black students accounted for all 28 expulsions in Akron in the 2010-11 school year and all 18 expulsions in the 2011-12 school year, according to Ohio Department of Education records. Total disciplinary actions — expulsions and in or out of school suspensions — administered to black students dipped 2.1 percent from 19,584 two years ago to 19,168 last year. The decline in disciplinary actions administered to white students dropped at a slower rate of 1.3 percent from 4,366 to 4,311.
Still, black students comprise half of Akron schools’ population while accounting for more than three-quarters of all disciplinary actions.
Toles and other parents urged the audience to organize and join a PTA. She also said to avoid charter schools, which Clarence Muhammad said he found out the hard way.
With a baby yet to enter school, three children home schooled, two in Akron Public Schools and another in a private school, Muhammad and his wife view schools as partners in education. If the parents don’t participate, the child fails. If the school fails, Muhammad chooses a different partner.
His daughter attended a local charter school, he told the audience. Muhammad had two private schools test her as she entered ninth grade, which is not available at most charter schools. She placed three to four grade levels below her age. And the straight A’s she received at the charter school gave Muhammad no indication that his daughter had been failing, he said.
“We were mortified,” Muhammad said, recalling the results from the placement tests.
He came to tell his story of how his daughter was not prepared, but he also attended to learn more about the $25.1 million in state funding that leaves Akron schools when 3,242 children like his daughter attend charter schools.
“This issue is big. It’s not a two-sided coin,” said Muhammad, who runs his own catering service.
He said the IRS demands that he show his expenditures.
Charter schools — funded by public tax dollars and often operated by private management companies — should be held to the same standard, he said. “I believe in the principles of education and accountability.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.