7 things you might not know about ‘The Youngstown Plan’: Understanding what’s at stake in Ohio’s school district takeover (H.B. 70)

Over the past several months, Youngstown, Ohio (my hometown) has been making headlines across the state for the critical condition of its public school system. Considering the other strides towards progress that the city has made in the last ten years, it has been heart-wrenching to witness the failures of its school district. But what’s even worse to see is the callousness with which the community’s difficulties have been met by state lawmakers. For decades, Youngstown City Schools have been a puzzle that no one in power has seemed willing to solve. That is, until it was announced that the State of Ohio would seize control of the school district and turn the administration over to private controls, a decision that’s stunned and appalled many members of the Youngstown community.

Here are some answered questions regarding the so-called Youngstown Plan…

1. Youngstown City Schools are among the worst in Ohio.

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The Youngstown City School District has been in a state of Academic Emergency for the past 12 consecutive years, and operating under the state’s supervision through an Academic Distress Commission for the past 5 years. Still, however, there have been few signs of improvement during this time of heightened top-down oversight.

2. The Youngstown Plan capitalizes on the failure of the Academic Distress Commission to gain more state control.

HB 70, or “The Youngstown Plan”, as it’s known, reconfigures the school district’s Academic Distress Commission and appoints a Chief Executive Officer to manage the district. State law mandates that the Academic Distress Commission be reconfigured after at least 4 years of no improvement.

Here’s a quick run-down of what the reconfigured Commission will look like:

This Commission will then be responsible for appointing the all-powerful Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Click here to read more about the five appointed members of the Commission.

Still confused? This video provides a solid illustration of the plan:

3. The difference between the CEO-run district and anything currently within anyone in Youngstown’s legal authority is… 

Everything.

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The powers allotted to the CEO are REALLY broad. They include, but are not limited to the following:

Many critics have also expressed concern about the fact that the CEO is not required to have any experience as an educator. This seems to be a really centralized source of authority over a school district, especially for someone who may have zero classroom experience. Furthermore, the CEO would have the authority to dictate what decision-making power (if any) the local elected school board would have following the implementation of the Youngstown Plan.

4. This plan made it through the State Legislature expediently and in secret.

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Transparency in the formulation and passage of HB 70, the bill containing the last-minute amendment detailing the Youngstown Plan, was nearly non-existent, even to the state legislators themselves. HB 70 was rushed through hearings and chamber votes in the Ohio House and Senate all in a single day, by the GOP-majority of the Ohio Legislature.

Members of the State School Board (consisting of 19 members – 11 elected, 8 appointed by the governor) criticized State Superintendent Dick Ross for his role in establishing the secretive plan. Even as the State School Board visited the Youngstown school district last year and continuously discussed possibilities for reform, Ross never mentioned any ongoing discussions about the Youngstown Plan.

Community leaders, including Youngstown Mayor John McNally, were also excluded from offering input about the efforts to privatize the operation of the schools. In fact, McNally derided Ross’s assertion that the plan was written with any inclusion of authoritative bodies from Youngstown.

“I don’t find that to be a reasonable proposition,” McNally said. “It was written by Columbus.”

Additionally, Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, who represents Youngstown in the Ohio House, was essentially barred from any of the discussions of the plan leading up to the passage of the bill. Upon telling Lepore-Hagan last November that a committee had been created to formulate a solution to the crisis facing Youngstown City Schools, Kasich also told the freshman representative that her involvement would “make it too political…[she would] muddy it all up.” 

5. Who’s the mastermind behind the Youngstown Plan? John Kasich.

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Kasich has, of course, has done nothing but defend the Youngstown Plan and decried its opponents.

“[T]hose schools over there have failed for nine straight years,” he said. “Frankly, I’m a little disappointed in some of my Democrat colleagues who did not support the rescuing of the Youngstown schools.”

He added, “We just couldn’t wait any longer. Those kids were being left behind.”

Kasich is correct; the failure of the school system is unceasing and the need for reform is urgent. Denigrating the plan’s opposition misconstrues the basis for their reluctance – and the fact that this new plan by no means guarantees, and may even counteract, its desired outcomes.

The privatization of public entities has been a hallmark of the Kasich administration. The Governor’s touting of these repeated efforts to “save tax dollars” by conferring control over public agencies to private management is something many Ohioans are used to hearing. Ironically, these policies have consistently proven to be absolute failures. JobsOhio is a prime example. The governor’s not-so-thoughtful distribution of an RfP for lottery privatization would be another.

The fact that the Youngstown Plan echoes the same rhetoric from the Kasich camp about public failings and the promise of a privatized rescue leaves many reasons for the communities of Youngstown to be wary. Many are infuriated.

Frankly, Kasich’s authoritative overreach in the Youngstown Plan is infantilizing, and dismissive of the clear capabilities of many in the Youngstown community who’ve repeatedly expressed their willingness to spearhead reform in the schools (more on this below). As a native of the city, I agree that Kasich’s plan is an over-simplification of the nuanced problems plaguing Youngstown City Schools. No solution dictated from above is going to meaningfully impact what’s happening on the ground. The Kasich administration’s policies have already played a role in exacerbating the crisis in Youngstown. So why now is it “Kasich to the ‘rescue'”?

6. A lot of this is about charter schools.

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Charter schools are everywhere in Youngstown. In fact, excluding brick-and-mortar schools located outside the city, nearly $19.5 million is diverted from the Youngstown City School District each year, following Youngstown students to the 9 charter schools located in the city, as well as online charter schools. Ohio charter schools are notorious; the state is frequently blazoned with the nickname “the Wild, Wild West of Charter Schools,” given our reputation for lax oversight. Fortunately, the state legislature recently passed a Charter School Reform Bill, which promises to address some of these issues; but, the damage to the Youngstown Public School District has already been done. According to KnowYourCharter.com, none of the charter schools “serving” Youngstown are graded above a C, and the majority receive a D or F rating.

What remains unknown to many is the objective of the Kasich administration in taking over Youngstown Schools. Taking into consideration Ohio’s approved but embattled application for federal grant money ($10 million of which may be earmarked for establishing new charter schools), the surreptitious passage of HB70, as well as closed-door statements by Governor Kasich about wanting to shut down Youngstown City Schools and opening “a great big charter school”, this state’s school-district-takeover feels more like a heist to many of its critics.

7. The only alternative seems to be improvement of this existing plan.


Despite attempts to stall its implementation in court, the Youngstown Plan will move forward.

Fortunately, however, Youngstown’s Rep. Lepore-Hagan and Sen. Schiavoni have presented legislation in both the Ohio House and Senate to focus the plan more firmly around the will of the community.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, here’s what the proposed changes to the plan would entail:


Have requests, insights, responses, or questions? Email the writer for follow-up! You can reach Colleen Craig at colleen@democraticvoices.com.