Education policy questions that every gubernatorial candidate should answer

Getty Images/monkeybusinessimages

Campaign season in Ohio is in full swing. With a gubernatorial election this year, there’s been ample media coverage related to who’s entering the race, who’s withdrawing, who’s getting endorsed by whom, and who has the most cash. What’s less clear is where each candidate stands on education. To some extent, one can assume candidate views based on past priorities (if they hold or have held office) or on party affiliation. But partisanship does not always predict policy positions, and education is odd that way—you can find pro-school choice Democrats in some communities and anti-school choice Republicans in others, for example.

It’s not unusual for candidates at this stage in the game (pre-primary) to keep their talking points broad and their websites vague. Even so, it’s a bit disappointing that so many of Ohio’s current gubernatorial candidates are so light on education details. Only three candidates (of eight total) noted specific education positions on their websites in a way that was easy for voters to find (see the table below). And while many have provided quotes on education to the media, much of it is overtly partisan (see “quotes” below). Voters shouldn’t have to comb all corners of the web to ascertain where a candidate stands on key education areas or read piecemeal quotes that don’t really cover the fundamentals of education policy.

Ohio gubernatorial candidate (lieutenant governor)

Policy positions on education listed on website

Other mentions of education on website

Quotes

Richard Cordray (Betty Sutton)

None

None

Has spoken against public funding to ECOT

Mike DeWine (Jon Husted)

None

A lone reference in the “about” section about knowing that “every parent wants their kids to have an opportunity for a solid education”

Believes that drug prevention education should be taught in every school and is a proponent of financial literacy programming in high schools

Dennis Kucinich (Tara Samples)

Kucinich includes “education and the arts” among eight position areas and dedicates a paragraph to K-12 focused primarily on funding.

Schools mentioned in need for “peaceful communities”

Said he would ban political contributions from charter operators and that he believes all charter boards should be elected

Bill O’Neill (Chantelle Lewis)

None

None

Suggested a “cabinet-level czar” for education

Connie Pillich (Scott Schertzer)

Pillich includes education among eight policy areas and describes an “education stimulus” package that touches on funding, STEM, Pre-K, and affordable college.

In policy section

Has proposed free college tuition and Pre-K; argued that “94 percent” of charters are failing to perform as well as or better than traditional public schools

Joe Schiavoni (Stephanie Dodd)

Three of Schiavoni’s nineteen issue areas listed cover education: “great schools,” career tech education, and college affordability.

In policy sections and also named in “about us” under Schiavoni as well as Dodd

Has been highly vocal about ECOT and outspoken about dramatic governance reforms in Youngstown

Mary Taylor (Nathan Estruth)

None

None

Said charter schools “need to be held more accountable,” students need more skills training, and teachers need to be held accountable “in a realistic way”

A website for Dave Kiefer could not be found. There is speculation that Jon Heavey may also jump into the race.
 

Ideally, all candidates should be able to sketch out their views on key education areas in a way that voters can easily see. Here’s a breakdown of applicable questions that any prospective governor should answer; perhaps the Columbus Dispatch or another major newspaper could ask them to do so.

Accountability

1.) Would you keep Ohio’s school and district report cards? Make any changes to them?

2.) Given that one in three college freshmen in Ohio need remedial coursework, how do you propose to strengthen readiness for college in the K-12 system? For young people entering the workforce directly after high school, what steps can we take to prepare them for their careers?

School funding

3.) Is the funding of Ohio’s schools constitutional? If not, how would you change the system?

4.) Should the state play a greater role in school funding, or do you see local property taxes as an appropriate source of education revenue?

5.) What education programs would you prioritize to fund through your budget? How would you ensure that funds are well spent?

6.) How should charter schools and choice programs be funded?

Choice

7.) Do you hope to see more or fewer charter schools in Ohio by the end of your tenure? How would you promote quality in the charter sector?

8.) What should determine eligibility for private school scholarships—the quality of a student’s zoned school, income, disability, something else?

9.) What can state policymakers do to support families as they search for quality school options? Would you push urban districts and charter schools to set up common enrollment systems?

Governance and regulation

10.) If a school or district is underperforming, what should be done to help it improve? Are there instances where drastic measures outside of the governance norms of a district are necessary? What do you think of Ohio’s academic distress commission model?

11.) Who do you think should be in charge of education decision making at a state level—the Governor, State Board of Education, the legislature?

12.) How do you view state regulations on schools? Specifically, how do you view Ohio’s teacher evaluation, compensation, and licensure regulations?

Personally, I’d also throw these in for good measure:

13.) What qualifications would you seek for appointees to the State Board of Education?

14.) What types of schools did you go to? What about your children?

This is more useful to know, in my opinion, than whether the candidate has an aunt or sister-in-law who’s a teacher. For example, a candidate who says she supports public education but sends her children to private school might raise a red flag for me if she also opposes providing that same choice to less fortunate families.

15.) What do you think are the biggest problems Ohio faces in K-12 education?

Watch out for common scapegoats, be they “for-profit” charter schools or teachers’ unions. Does the candidate cite specific data grounded in fact? Do they speak with aspiration, with the belief that these problems can be solved, and provide concrete policy solutions?

16.) What ideas are missing in Ohio’s current education policy environment? Can you discuss which states or localities are doing that thing well?

* * *

While everyone will likely have their own set of education questions for gubernatorial candidates, answers to these queries would give voters incredibly valuable information as they decide who will be Ohio’s next chief executive. Education is simply too important to leave answers to chance.

 
 
Jamie Davies O'Leary
Jamie Davies O'Leary is former Senior Ohio Policy Analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.