Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Toledo Blade. September 18, 2022.

Editorial: Ohio’s bond rating built on neglect

Ohio is celebrating the best bond rating it has received since 1979.

Fitch Ratings gives Ohio AAA ratings based on “fiscal reserves and cash balances.” A better bond rating means lower borrowing costs so this is good news for citizens. But we’re not as happy as the DeWine administration.

“The historic move by Fitch to upgrade Ohio’s rating to AAA comes as a result of our economic policies and fiscal stewardship that have brought measurable results,” said Governor DeWine in a news release. “This announcement is real world validation that we have put Ohio on the most solid footing the state has enjoyed in decades,” Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted added.

We’re not applauding because Ohio’s AAA rating is also evidence that local government starvation will continue in Columbus.

Cities and counties around Ohio used to get 3.68 percent of the state’s general revenue fund. Beginning in 2010 the state has set the Local Government Fund at 1.66 percent of general revenue.

Now when you look at the withholding on your paycheck you’ll see that state income taxes are more than the city. The sales tax collected by Ohio is much higher than the share taken by Lucas or any other county.

The Local Government Fund was created because at one time Ohio’s leaders understood that the vast bulk of actual service to citizens is performed at the local level. The LGF sent money without strings giving local government flexibility to set priorities.

When you call 911 there is no Ohio police, fire or EMS unit that will come to your aid. Eighty percent of the Ohio economy originates in municipalities that used to be much better served by state government. Eight and a half million Ohioans live in a location where the local government support from the state has been slashed.

The Wall Street ratings agencies may love Ohio’s ever growing rainy day fund and it’s impossible to keep politicians facing an election from bragging about the improved assessment. Yet there is simply no denying that Ohio has shortchanged the government closest to the everyday issues of its citizens. We would prefer to see a news release increasing the LGF to 5 percent of state general revenue.

Weakening cities and counties, as Ohio has, for more than a decade, is not evidence of fiscal prudence, no matter what the bond ratings say.

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Youngstown Vindicator. September 18, 2022.

Editorial: Pandemic still setting back Ohio students

As we all could have expected, evidence released last week in annual school report cards proves that online learning prompted by the pandemic took a great toll on Ohio students’ progress.

The 2022 Ohio School Report Cards, released Thursday by the Ohio Department of Education, proved that both statewide and locally, students now are performing at or near pre-pandemic levels.

School report cards are meant to serve as a measurement of student performance by school, evaluating students in areas of achievement, early learning, graduation rates, progress and gap closing among student subgroups.

An official at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-reform think tank based in Columbus, last week described the pandemic as a “catastrophe for many Ohio students.” Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director at the institute, said, “Today’s report cards reveal the ongoing consequences of the pandemic, with more students than usual struggling to meet grade level expectations in math and English.”

Locally, school leaders don’t deny the challenges they have faced with online learning.

Most are working to overcome those challenges; still many urban school districts, in particular, lag behind.

Among Mahoning Valley school districts, Youngstown City Schools ranked lowest, followed by Campbell, Warren, Liberty and Newton Falls.

Warren City Schools, for instance, this year received two stars out of the possible five in achievement. Prior to the pandemic, the district’s achievement number was 66 percent. In 2022, it was 56 percent.

Warren City Schools Chief Academic Officer Wendy Hartzell told our education reporter Chris McBride this: “It is evident the pandemic, along with socio-economics, has had a huge impact on students academically, socially and emotionally. We still are working through the effects of the disruption of school over the last several years, and we continue to use data to drive future decisions focusing on both academics and the needs of the whole child.”

Youngstown City Schools Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor also acknowledged shortcomings that COVID-19 created. For achievement scores, the district sits at a paltry 44.9 percent for testing. Its pre-pandemic scores rated at 55.9 percent in 2018-19.

Batchelor said the district’s 2021 graduation rate also dipped to 82.8 percent partly because of students being disengaged due to the pandemic or students whose learning was offset due to online learning.

It should be noted that one key assessment of overall successes and failures of students and schools remains absent again from this year’s state report cards. For the third straight year, the state Department of Education declined to release an overall grade for school districts, saying that overall rating will be returned in the 2023 report cards. We disagree that the pandemic should have prevented the release of this rating, particularly this year, since most students last year returned to in-class learning. This state data is invaluable in monitoring student progress, and the reason for withholding it raises questions in and of itself.

Nevertheless, the scores that were released did paint a picture of students struggling to overcome the challenges created by online learning.

Statewide analysis provided by the Fordham Institute showed that proficiency in math dipped more dramatically during the pandemic, and scores remain well below pre-pandemic levels. While proficiency in English language arts was less affected, scores in this subject also haven’t yet fully recovered.

Ohio cannot afford to leave students behind, lacking the basic reading and math skills. State and local education leaders must create a faster pace for recovery, and as Fordham Institute suggests, it should focus on core academics and ensuring that schools are using proven effective practices.

It’s unfortunate that our kids have suffered, but the experiment that involved online and virtual learning for more than a year should serve to teach us all one thing.

While the world is increasingly focused on the convenience and benefits of connecting digitally or virtually with one another, for our kids that doesn’t always work.

As we’ve said previously in this space, education is best administered in person, in a classroom.

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Elyria Chronicle Telegram. September 16, 2022.

Editorial: Keep Nathan Manning in the Ohio Senate

State Sen. Nathan Manning is a moderate Republican by almost any definition, although he prefers the term “pragmatic.”

Given the strength of the hard-right conservative base in his party, his reticence to embrace the moderate label as he seeks a second term is perhaps understandable. The 40-year-old also described himself as a conservative during an endorsement interview this week.

While Manning, of North Ridgeville, does indeed hold conservative views on some issues, his moderation and pragmatism are his defining features.

Not only do those traits make him an effective legislator, they have strong crossover appeal in the newly drawn 13th District.

The district, which includes all of Lorain County and parts of Erie and Huron counties, is widely considered a toss-up. By nominating Manning over his hard-right primary challenger, state school board member Kirsten Hill, Republicans increased their chances of holding the seat.

“I’m reasonable,” Manning told us. “I get things done. I work across the aisle. Now that I have more experience, I’m even more effective.”

All of which is why we believe Manning should prevail in November over his Democratic challenger, 26-year-old Anthony Eliopoulos of Lorain.

Eliopoulos is making his first bid for elected office, but he’s no stranger to public service.

He’s served in the Ohio Army National Guard since he was in college, rising to the rank of first lieutenant. He had a brief stint working as an intern at Lorain City Hall. He also worked for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, as a liaison to veterans and military families for several years. He left that job in February to run for office. (Unsurprisingly, Brown has endorsed him.)

Eliopoulos said he was inspired to run for office after supporters of then-President Donald Trump assaulted the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

It’s to his credit that he did so, but it’s not an issue that he even bothered attacking Manning over. That’s because Manning has recognized that Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president.

Ohio and the nation need more people like Manning who are focused on finding solutions to problems rather than relitigating election losses or spewing wild-eyed conspiracy theories.

Manning is a serious lawmaker who has been on the right side of a lot of issues, including opposing House Bill 6, the scandal-plagued energy bailout bill. He worked hard to find a way for Lorain Schools to escape state control.

A success like that was possible, in part, because of Manning’s experience.

He served two terms in the Ohio House before making the jump to the state Senate four years ago. He replaced his mother, state Rep. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, who moved into his old House seat.

A lawyer by trade, the younger Manning previously worked as a prosecutor and is now in private practice. He serves as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he’s been deeply involved in criminal justice reform efforts. He also sits on the Senate Finance Committee, another key position.

None of this is to say that Manning has had a perfect track record. For instance, he voted to loosen gun regulations in the state and to give the General Assembly the power to override the health orders of the Ohio Department of Health.

Perhaps nowhere is Manning’s moderation more evident, though, than in his position on abortion. Although he’s voted for a few troubling bills over the years, he rightly opposed the so-called “heartbeat bill.” He favors exceptions for rape, incest and protection of the life of the mother.

Those positions are more in line with how most Ohioans feel about abortion. If Manning’s fellow Republicans in the Statehouse impose a ban on abortion after the election, he predicted it would face a referendum.

Indeed, Manning told us voters should decide the legality of abortions in Ohio.

Eliopoulos is a moderate Democrat, which makes him a strong candidate in what he told us was one of two competitive state Senate districts in Ohio this election.

The dearth of such districts serves as further proof of just how egregious Republican gerrymandering was this year. Manning, disappointingly, told us he believed Republicans acted lawfully.

Despite Eliopoulos’ lack of experience in elected office, we were impressed by his grasp of policy questions and his willingness to admit when he didn’t know something. That quality is all too rare in politics these days.

With a bit of seasoning, we believe he could have a bright future in politics. (A few vacancies seem likely on Lorain City Council next year, and he should consider running for election there.)

Eliopoulos would likely prove a fine state senator were he elected.

Manning, however, has already proved he has what it takes to do the job. Voters should send him back to Columbus for another four years.

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