Cleveland has long struggled to improve its troubled public schools.
Jackson and school officials hope to make Cleveland a model of education reform for the rest of the state to follow.
The Cleveland school district has long been facing double digit budget shortfalls, including a $65 million deficit this year. It’s also seen its student population dwindle, dropping from more than 70,000 a decade ago to around 44,000 this year.
Which is why the district has been eager to adopt education reforms. There are more than 60 charter schools in Cleveland, many of them sponsored by the district. And Cleveland was the pilot city for the state’s voucher program.
Then, nearly two years ago, school officials implemented a “Transformation Plan” which focused on shutting down the district’s worst performing schools and downsizing the district.
Now comes the latest plan. But Cleveland schools’ CEO Eric Gordon insists it’s not new. Instead, he says it’s an “extension of the transformation plan, it’s not changed.”
Gordon and Mayor Jackson want to take things a step further by embracing charter schools even more, but that embrace comes with a caveat. Cleveland is asking state lawmakers to give it more control over the charter schools that operate in the district, including deciding who gets to open one and when the district can step in and shut one down.
Gordon says, “we need to make sure we have more high quality schools for all children and less low quality schools for all children, including mine and charters.“
The plan also asks for more control over teachers – including eliminating seniority as the sole factor in layoffs and promotions. That’s caught the attention of the teachers unions.
“It really strikes of a lot of what was discussed in Senate Bill 5 and SB 5 was really aimed at silencing teachers voices and silencing labors voice,” says David Quolke, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union. “Voters rejected that a few months ago. So come back and find that many components that were just rejected are being tried to place in name of reform for Cleveland schools.”
Mayor Jackson rejects that notion.
“I am not going to sacrifice another year of children on the altar of Democrats, Republicans, unions or nonunions.”
Jackson says this new plan is not politically motivated. The Democratic mayor met with Republican Gov. John Kasich last week to discuss the plan, and Kasich even mentioned it in his State of the State speech.
“I’m counting on Cleveland to deliver the goods. I’m counting on Cleveland to be their best advocate. Oh, I’ll work with them. I’ll go door to door to every one of your offices with the Mayor of Cleveland. But if the Cleveland business community and the mayor is really committed to very comprehensive and unbelievable reform and we can involve Republican and Democrats in this endeavor we can change urban education in Ohio and we can change urban education in America and that is worth fighting for and that is worth rising for.”
Cleveland officials are not asking for additional state funding. They say they will pay for the plan with the money they have. They do have some business and local philanthropic partners backing them. Plus, they plan to ask voters to pass a levy in November.
Check out the entire plan for yourself here: