How to Reform Education in Ohio: A Symposium

Patrick A. Sweeney

December 1, 1997

The number one concern for the average citizen of the U.S. isn’t crime or the economy — it’s education. As you may well know, there is much controversy over what needs to be done to improve the quality of education in the Cleveland Public School System, and to a lesser extent, the Cleveland suburban school districts. The best thing we can do to provide the necessary education to prepare our children for the future is to guarantee choice, namely choice in the form of school vouchers and pilot programs like the Hope Academies.

In the city of Cleveland, there is a phenomenon of parents taking choice of schools into their own hands. Many families retain residence in the city of Cleveland during their sons’ and daughters’ childhood while sending them to Cleveland’s many parochial schools. When their children reach the eighth grade, the families then move to suburbs with highly rated public schools like Rocky River, Fairview, and Lakewood. If people had options like school vouchers, they wouldn’t be forced to move to ensure that their children gained adequate instruction, and the city of Cleveland wouldn’t be hurt by “educational exoduses.”

School vouchers allow lower-income parents to have a choice about where their children attend school who otherwise couldn’t afford to send their children to private or parochial schools or who couldn’t afford to move to the suburbs. Choice, or pluralism in higher education, is what has given America the world’s best collegiate system, and choice, implemented via vouchers, can hopefully bring our primary and secondary schools up to par. There are many pilot programs involving vouchers now, and two such experimental programs are the Hope Academies.

Hope Academies are experimental pilot schools for underprivileged children. The Hope Academies have significantly lower crime rates than other area schools. Many parents and children have testified that these schools “saved” them, or at least are a superior alternative to the area schools.

Voucher programs, and schools like the Hope Academies, are not panaceas. They cannot solve all of the problems of the decline of public primary and secondary education in our cities. They can, however, provide empowerment to parents and can give us the chance to see how choice in education can improve our children’s present and future. There will be 7,500 students entering kindergarten this fall. About 5,500 will be attending public schools. We must keep the future of these children in mind, and give vouchers and pilot programs the chance to give these people a choice, and a future.

Public policy makers should focus on the outcome of the student. We must put the student first. Too much concentration is put on the institution or the bureaucracy of education and not on its product.

Americanism is a supermarket of choices in almost every aspect of our lives. Let us not deny the most important choice to this next generation.

Patrick A. Sweeney, a Democrat, is an Ohio State Senator from Cleveland.