Local officials in control of public schools

Giving local officials as much control as possible over public schools normally is the best policy. Education bureaucrats in state capitals simply are not familiar enough with local needs to handle the job well.

But what if local officials are doing a terrible job? Is it fair to children to allow them to continue suffering, generation after generation? Of course not.

Ohio is among states where it has been recognized that sometimes, the reins need to be taken away from local school officials. Needless to say, those subject to such takeovers are not enamored of them.

In October, state Supreme Court justices will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the state takeover mechanism. It was filed by the elected Youngstown Board of Education and the city’s school employee unions. No surprise there.

Their lawsuit contends it is unacceptable under the state constitution for Youngstown schools to be operated by a state-named chief executive officer, rather than by the locally elected board. Plaintiffs also claim the state legislature violated a procedural rule in enacting a 2015 law allowing such takeovers.

How the high court will rule is uncertain, of course. The very fact justices have agreed to hear oral arguments indicate at least some have concerns about the law.

But consider the situation: Youngstown city schools are among the very worst in Ohio. Most of the system’s grades on the state department of education’s “report card” evaluation are Fs. Fewer of three of every four freshman students can be expected to graduate from high school in four years. Fewer than four in five will make it in five years.

Clearly, something needs to be done about schools like those in Youngstown. Just as obviously, local officials had decades to make improvements — but failed.

It may be that the state Supreme Court will find some flaw in the takeover law. If so, legislators should go back to the drawing board and enact a new law providing a way the state can step in to do something about failure by local officials to give children schools that work.

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