Have you ever thought those road signs which greet you at the state line might also provide another purpose or meaning besides the standard welcome message? Consider this.

As we ended a two-week road blitz a few days ago visiting friends and family in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Maryland, we navigated the imposing Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-70 West, crossing the I-470 bridge over the Ohio River near Wheeling. Two signs greeted us upon our return to the Buckeye State.

Welcome to Ohio said the first sign on the bridge superstructure. On a piece of road equipment near the massive green bridge, a second sign blinked: Expect Delays.

When you’re told to expect delays as soon as you reach the Ohio state line, one might wonder what particular types of delays lie ahead. But as I thought some more about the news I’d missed after two weeks and 3,000 miles of travel complete with multiple stops in four states, it occurred to me that Expect Delays could be a metaphor for a lot more than road work featuring tons of idle equipment scattered in the median for miles and no workers in sight.

After reading some news stories and a trove of piled-up emails that accumulated during our journey, the Expect Delays notice proved indeed to be a metaphor to illustrate political inaction as well as a harbinger for the true state of the state – particularly with its festering charter school scandals.

Here are two of the stories I found upon my return:

  • After four hearings, Senator Joe Schiavoni’s SB 298, a measure which would require online schools to maintain accurate records of student attendance and report such data monthly, is stalled in the Finance Committee. You read that correctly – the Finance Committee, not the Education Committee. Earlier, the Columbus Dispatch opined that Schiavoni’s bill was a needed charter school reform. Schiavoni’s bill was submitted after a number of stories appeared about grossly inflated e-school attendance figures.

Prediction: Expect Delays on this bill until at least after the November election. This will allow Bill Lager, owner of ECOT, the mega-online school, to distribute more campaign contributions generated from the school’s abundant profits to his favorite Republican supporters in the Ohio legislature. In a scathing column, Toledo Blade columnist Marilou Johanek fittingly observed the power of a checkbook in delaying e-school reform. “When Ohio Republicans boarded Mr. Lager’s gravy train they left the educational welfare of thousands of students behind,” she wrote.

  • Ohio Auditor Dave Yost characterized the Ohio Department of Education as one of the “worst run” agencies in state government. Never mind that the Auditor’s office itself has not followed through, along with prosecutors and inspectors general, to more closely examine the actions of former ODE Executive Director David Hansen, who altered results of charter school performance to make them appear more favorable. In October 2015, a Columbus Dispatch editorial quoted from a letter that I sent to the Auditor encouraging him to fully investigate Chartergate with the same rigor and determination he demonstrated with the Columbus City Schools data-rigging scandal.

Prediction: Expect Delays from Dave Yost on the investigation of David Hansen’s actions at ODE’s charter school office. Moreover, expect further delays on Yost’s reply to my October 11, 2015 letter which the Dispatch thought was important enough to mention in their editorial on Chartergate.

Any state office that takes eight months to reply to a citizen’s letter might also be a contender for placement in the “worst run” state agency category. As someone who has received dozens of formulaic and canned replies from politicians over the years, I acknowledge that a response – any response – is more valuable than no response at all.  It seems that Mr. Yost is more interested in spending his time planning a “charter school summit” than responding to charter critics and probing charter school scandals more deeply. The courtesy of a reply is therefore requested from the Auditor. Or should I expect more delays?

To be fair, there are other bills that await passage from this legislature, but the fetid swamp that is otherwise known as Ohio charter schools continues to transmit a toxic vapor that common citizens are able to detect but politicians located at Broad and High behave as if they are lacking a functioning olfactory nerve to pick up the worsening smell of play-to-play charter school stench. Continued inaction by the legislature to drain this dangerous swamp threatens the public sector and, most importantly, our public schools.

One Final Prediction: Like the failure of Congress to appropriate funds to combat the growing zika virus threat, Ohio citizens, worried about the growing peril of the spreading malodorous toxic charter school swamp, can nevertheless expect more delays. Sadly, the power of the checkbook will serve to check action on the charter school reform front.

Count on it.

If it might provide any comfort to Buckeye State residents, this writer found two other states where continuing legislative inaction has created crises that threaten to shut down state government functions. In Kansas, the Republican-controlled legislature adjourned without funding schools for the fall term but otherwise found time to vote on new bathroom regulations. This kind of social prioritizing is one of the reasons for What’s the Matter With Kansas. Meanwhile, in neighboring West Virginia, its Republican legislature has been unable to enact a new state budget, and the Mountain State is threatened soon with layoffs and furloughs as a result of GOP inaction.

Ohio, take notice, misery does love company in a Republican form of government.

In the meantime, take a road trip and return. You’ll see the signs. Welcome to Ohio: Expect Delays.

How much longer can we expect road signs to be a metaphor for inaction?

Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office. He writes about education issues as well as politics and constitutional reform.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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