The gerrymandering of public instruction

The people of Ohio believe that democracy should allow everyone to have a say in the future of our local communities and our state. We all want to elect leaders who represent our values, regardless of race, background or zip code.

But over the past year, Ohioans have watched some elected leaders challenge the state Supreme Court, forcing us to vote in unconstitutional precincts for state and congressional elections. The anarchy that infected this process has now infected the State Board of Education.

This blatant and lawless gerrymandering not only undermines democracy, but threatens the ability of Ohio families to be fairly represented on the State Board and to access an honest education for their children.

The Council of State comprises 11 elected members and eight appointed by the governor. By law, these 11 members represent districts made up of three state senate districts that cannot be divided among districts. The law also requires that these Council districts provide both rural and urban representation and be as compact “as possible”.

New Council districts drawn by Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this year fail all three criteria.

This matters because some lawmakers and State Board members have attacked efforts to provide Ohio children with an education based on truth, facts, and diverse perspectives.

It started a year ago, when lawmakers introduced House Bills 322 and 327, with language imported from an extremist national curriculum, that amounts to gag orders limiting what educators can teach about race, sexuality, gender, religion and history.

Months later, a majority of the State School Board voted to overturn a transformational resolution condemning racism and advancing equity in education. The attacks continued this year when two lawmakers introduced Bill 616 attacking freedom to learn in Ohio and calling our lives and experiences “dividing concepts.”

The immediate solution is to follow the law and redraw State Council districts to minimize the impact of the gerrymandering that has been incorporated into this year’s state legislative districts. But neither DeWine nor Secretary of State Frank LaRose wanted to give Ohioans fair and legal cards.

As a result, Ohioans who want to sit on the State Board have been forced to file applications by Aug. 10 for districts that clearly break the law and won’t provide fair representation. This is especially true for Cuyahoga and Franklin counties, where new State Board districts dramatically reduce the opportunity for black Ohio to be represented.

Barring action by the governor or secretary of state, Ohioans who value an honest upbringing should pay close attention to the five Council of State seats in the November ballot.

District seats 2, 3, 4, 9 and 10 are currently held by members who voted to repeal the Board’s anti-racism resolution and continue to devalue the importance of student well-being and personal development.

Ohioans have the opportunity to vote for candidates who want to ensure that every child has the opportunity to gain a solid foundation in a high-quality public school in their community.

While it is important to vote for candidates for the Council of State who believe in the value of an honest public education, it is not enough.

Ohioans also need to pay closer attention to what’s happening in their local school boards, some of which have passed resolutions that mimic the hardline language of state bills, like Forest Hills. The state plays an important role, but many decisions are made at the local level where families and committed residents can make a big difference.

Our leaders may be willing to risk democracy, but the people of Ohio can always help secure a better future for all. It is not too late.

Ms. Peeples is the founding director of Honesty for Ohio Education, a statewide coalition of more than 40 partners and hundreds of individuals who believe that every child deserves a high-quality education based on truth, facts and diverse perspectives.

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