Dennis Kucinich Is Back, With His Sights Set on For-Profit Education

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Dennis Kucinich Is Back, With His Sights Set on For-Profit Education

Former congressman kicks off four-city tour at Ohio statehouse, fueling rumors of political comeback

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich launched a four-city, anti-charter school tour in Columbus, Ohio on Monday, telling attendees at a press conference that "public education's financial base is being destroyed by private, for-profit corporate interests."

Kucinich, who served 16 years in Congress, was Cleveland mayor in the late 1970s, and ran for president in 2004 and 2008, plans to hold town hall-style forums across the state in Centerville, Columbus, Parma, and Elyria Monday through Thursday. He kicked it off by talking to reporters at the Ohio statehouse.

"When state revenue for public schools decreases because of money which goes to private for-profit charters, public school officials must make up the difference by asking local property taxpayers for more money," Kucinich said. "It represents a deliberate, destructive undermining of the public education of Ohio's children. What is our educational philosophy today? Let for-profit corporations exploit the mass of children by controlling the state government?"

With that last line, he was referring to state legislators "who have accepted millions of dollars in campaign contributions from charter-school operators, notably William Lager of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow and David Brennan of White Hat Management," according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Ohio has become notorious for its poor charter-school performance and oversight.

The Twinsburg Bulletin reports that Kucinich plans to use the information at this week's town halls and other meeting "to compile a report, to be presented to the legislature early next year, with recommendations for reforming the system."

The Bulletin adds:

The meetings are helping to fuel speculation about Kucinich's 2018 ballot intentions, potentially including a run in the Democratic primary for governor. He was mum on that subject Monday—"I'm not here to talk politics," he responded when asked.

Pro-charter Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who was behind the spread of charter schools in neighboring Michigan, visited Ohio last week and toured a rural public school in Van Wert, Ohio, with American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten—who was a vocal opponent of DeVos during her confirmation battle (and continues to be, as per an op-ed by Weingarten published Wednesday in Ohio's Times Bulletin).

According to a report released in advance of DeVos' visit, since the 2012-2013 school year, $3,744,988 in state funding originally meant for children attending Van Wert County's local public schools "has instead gone to privately run brick-and-mortar and online charter schools." In turn, said the report from Innovation Ohio, "local taxpayers in Van Wert...have had to subsidize these larger state payments to charter schools to the tune of $1.4 million—money that should have supplemented the larger state aid amount but is now being used to subsidize poorer performing, privately run charter schools."

Supporting Kucinich's criticism, the report pointed out that indeed, "local property taxpayers in Van Wert County schools are paying $3 million more in property taxes in 2015 (the most recent available data from the Ohio Department of Taxation) than they did in 2013, which is increasing those communities' reliance on property taxes to pay for education—a result deemed unconstitutional four times by the Ohio Supreme Court."

Kucinich is reportedly "working with legal experts to determine if the funding and operation of charter schools can be challenged in court," the Dispatch writes.

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