Most of the focus of the 2010 midterm election has been on the change in party control of the U.S. House and the drubbing that Republicans unleashed on Democrats. But something else occurred as well. All across America, in communities big and small, rich and poor, school districts had to beg and plead with the residents of their communities to pass levies so their schools could keep operating.
I live in Green, Ohio, a small city of almost 24,000 people nestled between Akron and Canton and am active in my local school district. This past year, I was part of an organization that worked hard to pass a school levy—money desperately needed for a district that hasn’t received new money for eleven years despite rising costs, a burgeoning student population, new unfunded state-mandated obligations (such as all day kindergarten) and decreases in state funding.
Green consistently ranks among the top school districts in Ohio and is a good steward of the taxpayers’ money, having made a number of cuts in staff and administration in order to reduce expenditures. It is no fluke that Green is consistently rated “excellent with distinction” by the state of Ohio, and, largely because of the schools, the city was ranked as the 16th best place in America to raise a family by Business Week in 2007.
Passing the levy was crucial to maintaining these high standards. Parents and community members were aware that failure to pass the levy would be catastrophic. Cuts to the schools would be deep, painful, and across-the-board. Every citizen in Green would feel the sting.
And yet it failed anyway. Fifty-three percent of the voters said no to the schools and to the kids. Green was not alone: about 75% of the school levies across Ohio that were seeking new money were rejected.
It is a bitter pill to swallow. My ten year old son—the kid who canvassed the neighborhoods and proudly held a pro-levy sign on Election Day—cried from the moment he woke up the morning after, until his wait for a school bus that may not be there next year.
We had let him down.
David B. Cohen is an associate professor of political science and a fellow in the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron.