When U.S. Senator George Voinovich retires at the end of his current term in 2010 it will signal the end of progressive Republican education reform in Ohio. Voinovich announced today that he will not seek reelection to a third term as Ohio's senior Senator. His public service goes back to 1967 when he was elected to the Ohio House.
Voinovich's stellar reputation as a school reformer comes honestly. He got a cold bath in bleak urban public school performance while mayor of Cleveland for 10 years. As mayor and then as Ohio's governor for eight years he argued change was needed, especially for children trapped in dysfunctional school systems like his hometown's. The Cleveland Public Schools were declared bankrupt by the state auditor's office in 1996 and the district had a dismal 34 percent graduation rate at the time.
When he was elected governor in 1991, Voinovich sought real changes to how public education was delivered and paid for in the Buckeye State. He supported a Cleveland voucher program and signed into law the state's first charter school legislation. Under his watch, and under the pressure of Ohio's Supreme Court DeRolph decision declaring the state's funding system unconstitutional, state spending increased significantly for the neediest urban and rural school districts, and these districts also benefited from a massive school construction program. These, and other efforts, helped put the Buckeye State on a 17-year track of school reform defined by choice, standards, accountability, and steadily increased state spending on K-12 education. Now, with Democrats in control of the Ohio House and the governor's office, one can't help but wonder if choice and accountability efforts (both hated by teacher unions) might face serious setbacks. Going back in time would be a shame as no one can deny Ohio has made progress over the last 15 years following the agenda set by Voinovich.
In the U.S. Senate, Voinovich continued to push for education reform, especially the connection between boosting math and science education with economic progress. He also advocated for early childhood education and for more aid to adult education programs. To a great extent, Ohio, wracked by the decades-long decline in manufacturing, depends on the success of these initiatives. They are so important that Voinovich, while stepping out of the Senate, will doubtless continue to exert his influence for the betterment of Ohio's education system. We wish him well.