The public schools in Dayton have been struggling academically for years, battling Cleveland most years for the dubious distinction of worst school system in the state. But the city has been blessed to have three truly outstanding high schools. The Dayton Public Schools' Stivers School for the Arts and the Dayton Early College Academy charter school were both honored by U.S. News and World Report as being among America's top public high schools for 2009 (see here). And the city's Catholic high school, Chaminade Julienne (CJ), is another jewel, with many distinguished graduates that have excelled in business, athletics, academics, the arts, and politics.
The Dayton Daily News recently observed that four CJ graduates were sworn in this month as members of the state legislature (see here). The four, all Democrats, are Reps. Clayton Luckie of Dayton and Mike Foley of Cleveland, both Class of 1981; Rep. Roland Winburn of Harrison Township, Class of 1965; and Sen. Tom Roberts of Dayton, Class of 1970. For one high school to have four graduates serving in the Ohio General Assembly at one time is unprecedented. It illuminates and demonstrates the quality of education provided by CJ over many years.
It is odd then that three of these lawmakers-Luckie, Foley, and Roberts-have opposed the Ohio Educational Choice Scholarship Program (see here) that makes it possible for almost 1,400 children in Dayton to flee their failing public schools for private schools of their choice. Winburn is new to the Ohio House and has not yet had the chance to vote on this program, or other choice programs, so his position on such matters remains unknown.
Statewide, almost 10,000 children benefit from the Ed Choice program. More than 90 of them, according to state records, are attending Chaminade Julienne this year as a result of this publicly funded voucher program. It's only available to children from deeply troubled public schools, those that have been rated by the state as in academic watch (a D) or academic emergency (an F) for at least two of the past three years. Many of these youngsters enter their new schools two, three, or more years behind grade level. The program is capped at a total of 14,000 children statewide so it is not an effort to "privatize" all public schools.
Private schools do not have to accept the children that participate in this program-or participate at all-but 24 schools in the Dayton area have decided to help. There is little doubt that these schools offer hope to the children and families they serve. Hopes and dreams they wouldn't otherwise have-hopes like maybe one day being a state legislator or even President of the United States. President Obama attended a Catholic school as a child and an elite private preparatory school as a teen.
The Ohio Educational Choice Scholarship Program is no panacea for what ails education in the Buckeye State, but it offers an escape route to children otherwise trapped in faltering schools. It is also a bargain for taxpayers. Children in the Ed Choice program receive vouchers of $4,500 to $5,300 depending on grade-level. In contrast, per-pupil funding in the Dayton Public Schools runs about $13,500.
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has been a long-time supporter of school choice, beginning with the privately funded Dayton scholarship program known as PACE (see here). Over nine years, from its first scholarship class in 1998 through the 2007 school year, that program-thanks to the generosity of an amazing collection of local and national funders-provided more than 6,000 scholarships valued at about $8.6 million.
What's less known, however, is that many of the individuals and organizations that supported PACE also supported the reform efforts of the Dayton Public Schools, as well as those of a handful of the city's charter schools. Frankly, they diversified their philanthropic investments across school sectors-district, charter, and private-because what they wanted were great schools for all children. They saw competition and diverse reform efforts as the best hope for getting there and were not doctrinaire about these sector distinctions.
Because Dayton has three great high schools (one district, one charter, and one private) we have evidence that the city can provide high-quality school options for its children. Lawmakers and others-wherever they went to school -should be encouraged to focus their support on those schools that work for children, regardless of label. Dayton, like the state's other cities, needs all hands on deck if we are serious about educating all children well.