State Rep. Sean J. O’Brien (D–Bazetta) will travel to the recently re-opened Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday for a first round of business and trade discussions with members of the Cuban government. Conducted in concert with the office of Congressman Tim Ryan (D–OH 13th District) and designed to capitalize on the recent “thaw” in relations between the U.S. and its island neighbor to the south, the purpose of the high-level discussions is to foster economically beneficial business opportunities between Cuba and Ohio, and in particular Trumbull County.
“When you consider the number of top-notch businesses that call Ohio home – especially those in my district in Trumbull County – in addition to the fact that many companies are actively seeking to expand into new markets, it makes sense to showcase our business environment and look for opportunities close to home,” said O’Brien. “The profits and other benefits that will be realized by doing business in such a fresh market – one which possesses so much potential and has, for years, been hungry for the type of investments we will now be able to provide – are immense.”
In addition to benefiting business interests in Ohio, opportunities for trade also promise to bring the distinctive services and knowledge of Cuban companies to the Buckeye State for the first time in over 50 years.
“While we are obviously looking forward to bringing American business to Cuba, we’re very excited to see what the Cubans can bring to the table here at home, as well,” noted O’Brien. “There is a strong sense of innovation among companies in Cuba that could help contribute to an even healthier and more vibrant economic climate in Ohio.”
While this round of meetings will be used as an initial introduction to currently existing potential trade opportunities, it also signals the beginning of the planning process for a proposed trade mission to the island of Cuba. That trip is slated to take place this coming fall, and will consist of a delegation of Ohio elected officials, as well as Trumbull and Mahoning County business leaders.
State Rep. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) today joined the growing chorus urging the state auditor to launch an official investigation into reports that officials at the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) illegally manipulated a key evaluation of charter school oversight agencies by omitting failing grades from many online charters.
In a letter sent to State Auditor Dave Yost yesterday afternoon, the Euclid lawmaker expressed dismay at the violation of the law by ODE officials, saying: “[appointees] have a duty to follow the law and execute their public responsibility to the benefit of the 11 million residents of our state. I do not believe the data scrubbing actions undertaken by certain ODE individuals is in the best interest of Ohioans.”
Rep. Smith, who served as member of the Euclid Board of Education for over a decade before joining the legislature, also today called on the State Board of Education to remove Superintendent Dick Ross due not only to the data scrubbing scandal but also his involvement in crafting the secret takeover of the Youngstown city schools, as reported in yesterday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“As a 12-year Euclid City School Board Member, I was involved in many significant decisions that affected thousands of students. The more important the issue, the longer the board and the superintendent would deliberate and gather input from Euclid citizens,” said Smith. “If a superintendent ever would have crafted a plan in secret that affected as many lives as the Youngstown takeover, that superintendent would not have made it our next board meeting. Public school leadership requires at the very least the input of the public’s elected representatives, if not the general public itself.”
Smith also pointed out that the mayor of Youngstown is opposed the takeover of the Youngstown schools.
Over 5,000 students are enrolled in the Euclid public school system. Rep. Smith served as a member of the Euclid Board of Education from 2002 to 2013. He is a 4-time winner of the “Award of Achievement,” which is awarded annually to less than 3% of all school board members in Ohio. He was first elected to school board in 2001 and was re-elected in 2005 and 2009.
Top democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate today called on the State Board of Education to dismiss Superintendent Dick Ross, citing the recent scandal involving the cover up of failing charter school grades in state evaluations, the plan to takeover the Youngstown public schools crafted behind closed doors, and general lack of accountability to the State Board of Education and the public.
The lawmakers released the following statements today:
“Under Superintendent Ross’ leadership, the Department of Education has shown a severe lack of transparency and a disturbing disregard for the law,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman). “In just the past week we learned that his department broke the law by hiding the failing grades of some online charter schools run by political friends of the administration. Superintendent Ross also failed to inform state school board members—the people he works for—that he was meeting behind closed doors to plan a CEO takeover of the Youngstown School District. Clearly, he can no longer be trusted to lead the department responsible for educating our children. I urge the state board to take appropriate action to relieve him of his duties.”
“The Department of Education under the direction of Superintendent Ross has suffered from a systemic lack of transparency and accountability,” said House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton). “Ohio families deserve to have honest and accountable leadership overseeing the schools that are responsible for educating their children. I believe the State Board of Education needs to take swift and decisive action by removing the current failed leadership.”
“The data-scrubbing of failing charter schools from state evaluations is only the tip of the iceberg in the blatant disregard for the law exhibited by the superintendent and his Education Department officials,” said Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), ranking member on the House Education Committee. “The Ohio constitution does not allow for a rogue superintendent to operate outside the purview of the State Board of Education, but that is exactly what is happening. The superintendent has failed as a leader for our children and their future. The latest corruption in the Department of Education goes all the way to the top, and I urge the state school board to convene a meeting immediately to root it out.”
“It is with deep regret that I join the call for the State Board of Education to remove Superintendent Ross. I have always had great respect for Dr. Ross, but recent events have caused him to lose my trust and the trust of many Ohioans,” said Sen. Tom Sawyer (D-Akron), ranking member on the Senate Education Committee. “At this point, it is clear that Dr. Ross was either in on recent events, or he was totally out of it. Either way, he no longer enjoys the broad confidence needed to serve in such a crucial capacity. I am left with little choice but to ask for his removal.”
State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) today called on State Auditor Dave Yost to launch an official investigation into reports that Education Department officials illegally manipulated a key evaluation of charter school oversight agencies by omitting failing grades from many online charters. The deliberate omission by officials boosted the ratings of two oversight agencies, potentially qualifying them for new state perks.
The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that the auditor expressed concerns about the illegal data manipulation but that his office was so far only “collecting information,” not conducting an official investigation.
“Education Department officials violated the law by deliberately manipulating data in order to cover up for failing online charter schools,” said Fedor. “Simply collecting information is not enough – this matter demands a full and immediate investigation by the state auditor’s office.”
The Toledo lawmaker earlier today formally submitted a letter demanding that the state superintendent resign his position, citing the violations of the law that occurred under his watch.
“Your duty as state superintendent is to follow the law, period,” said Fedor in her letter to Superintendent Ross. “I am outraged by the recent revelation that your subordinates unlawfully manipulated key charter school evaluations in order to cover for failing online charters. State officials do not get to pick and choose which Ohio laws to follow. That this gross violation of the law was allowed to occur under your leadership is entirely unacceptable.”
A copy of the letter to Audito Yost calling of an official investigation is attached:
July 17, 2015
Dave Yost Auditor of State 88 East Broad Street, 5th Floor Columbus, Ohio 43215
Dear State Auditor Yost:
I write today to formally request an investigation by your office into allegations that Education Department officials deliberately violated the law by manipulating data in a key evaluation of charter school oversight agencies.
Board members, lawmakers, and parents across the state are outraged by what appears to be a deliberate violation of the law in order to cover up the widespread failure of online and dropout recovery charter schools.
As you yourself noted, officials “don’t get to pick and choose the laws [they] obey.” The Department of Education – from the superintendent on down – can and must follow the law.
This egregious violation demands a full and thorough investigation. I urge you to launch an official investigation into the matter immediately.
State Representative Teresa Fedor
State Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) today called for the resignation of State Superintendent Richard Ross and an investigation into the Ohio Department of Education after it was reported that top department officials neglected to include failing online schools in a key evaluation of charter school oversight agencies. The deliberate omission by officials boosted the ratings of two oversight agencies, potentially qualifying them for new state perks.
Rep. Fedor released the following statement today:
“I am outraged by what appears to be a deliberate violation of the law in order to cover up the widespread failure of online and dropout recovery charter schools. I believe the state superintendent should step down immediately as the result of alleged violations and data-scrubbing of online charter schools grades that took place under his leadership.”
“Parents deserve to know which schools are best fit to help prepare their children for success, and purposely putting forth misleading information is both morally and legally criminal. I believe that too many questions remain regarding any potential wrongdoing, and that we need a swift investigation into the matter. Lawmakers and parents deserve answers.”
COLUMBUS— State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) has urged Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger to convene a special session in order to hold a vote to override the governor’s veto of a budget provision related state developmental centers. Lepore-Hagan’s bipartisan provision in the recently passed state budget would have stayed the closure of the Youngstown and Montgomery Developmental Centers until further review by a 13-member commission.
“The vulnerable population that resides in these developmental centers is at risk of losing a place they consider home and the caregivers they consider family,” said Lepore-Hagan in her letter to Speaker Rosenberger. “It is our responsibility to respond to these quality of life issues with a fair legislative solution that reflects the nearly unanimous disapproval of the closures and its process.”
Text of the letter can be seen below:
July 15, 2015
Honorable Cliff Rosenberger
Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives
77 S. High St., 14th Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215
Dear Speaker Rosenberger:
I write to respectfully request that you convene session in order to hold a vote to override Item Number 6 of Governor Kasich’s Veto Message for Amended Substitute House Bill 64.
This provision created a Developmental Center Closure Commission requiring further review and investigation before closing state operated developmental centers. This Commission was a direct bipartisan response by both chambers of the legislature to address the closing of the Youngstown and Montgomery Developmental Centers. Implementation of the Commission was overwhelmingly supported by the public and the budget language reflects input from community stakeholders, state agencies, employees, families and residents directly affected by this decision.
The Finance Subcommittee on Health and Human Services heard hours of testimony and received hundreds of letters and phone calls from concerned constituents throughout the state. The vulnerable population that resides in these developmental centers is at risk of losing a place they consider home and the caregivers they consider family. It is our responsibility to respond to these quality of life issues with a fair legislative solution that reflects the nearly unanimous disapproval of the closures and its process.
I ask that you as Speaker of the House use your authority to take the first step necessary to override a veto by the Governor and hope that the Senate will also take action. I believe that by vetoing this well-vetted and widely supported provision the Governor is ignoring the will of the legislature and therefore the will of the people of Ohio.
I look forward to further discussions on this matter. If you have any questions, please contact my office.
Representative Michele Lepore-Hagan
House District 58
State Representatives David Leland (D-Columbus) and Michael Stinziano (D-Columbus) today announced plans to introduce legislation to prevent the destruction of natural buffer zones growing around Hoover Reservoir. The legislation will repeal a provision included in the state budget that allows residents to significantly alter those zones.
“Hoover Reservoir is a vital source of public water for Columbus, and the strip of land encircling Hoover and other reservoirs acts as a natural filter that removes contaminants that would threaten our water supply,” said Leland. “This provision, which was inserted in the budget at the last minute without public input or participation, threatens the health and safety of all Franklin County residents.”
“As the father of two infants, I believe the provisions inserted into the state budget that would allow areas around reservoirs like Hoover to be altered are bad policy and should be debated in an open and transparent manner,” Stinziano said. “Hoover Reservoir is a vital public resource and we need to do everything we can to protect it.”
State Reps. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Niraj Antani (R-Miami Township) today called for an end to capital punishment in Ohio and introduced bipartisan legislation to abolish the death penalty and replace it with a life sentence without parole.
The legislators discussed a multifaceted rationale for ending Ohio’s death penalty, citing racial disparities in sentencing; the death penalty’s failure to deter violent crime; the significant financial cost to taxpayers; and the state’s continued struggle to obtain the drugs necessary for lethal injection.
“Research has shown that the death penalty is administered with disparities across economical and racial lines and fails to act as a deterrent to violent crime,” said Antonio. “I continue to believe that the best death penalty reform in Ohio is to stop the use of capital punishment and replace it with a life sentence without parole.”
“Pro life, small government conservatives should be against the death penalty,” added Antani. “I believe there is a growing movement in the Republican Party to end the death penalty.”
The lawmakers were joined by advocates from the Catholic Conference of Ohio, the Ohio Council of Churches, the First Unitarian Universalist of Columbus, and Columbus synagogue Tifereth Israel.
“The Catholic Church is opposed to the use of the death penalty,” said Jim Tobin, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Ohio. “We are pleased to stand united today with so many other faith communities and political leaders in calling for an end to the death penalty.”
Ohio adopted its current capital punishment statute in 1981. To date, Ohio has executed a total of 393 convicts, while over 140 other prisoners remain on death row.
If passed, Ohio would join 19 other states in abolishing the death penalty. Nebraska most recently eliminated their death penalty statute this year, becoming the seventh state to do so since 2007.
Today, a standing room only crowd packed McGuffey Elementary School in Youngstown for a public meeting hosted by Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman), State Representative Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) and Youngstown Mayor John McNally to discuss the Youngstown School Plan. Parents, teachers and community residents protested the plan contained in House Bill 70 that gives broad and unprecedented powers to an unelected Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to run the district.
“Today’s town hall demonstrated that our community cares deeply about our children and our public school system. Local education decisions should be made in consultation with parents, teachers, regional lawmakers, business leaders and local education officials – not by Columbus outsiders who do not understand our unique and diverse community,” said Rep. Lepore-Hagan. “Community Learning Centers, included in the original legislation, offer a holistic learning model that bridges the gap between the classroom and the community. I look forward to proceeding in a constructive, inclusive manner to offer practical alternatives that that will put our children first by preparing them to succeed inside and outside of the classroom.”
House Bill 70 started out as legislation to establish Community Learning Centers in school districts across the state—a model for learning that has been successful in Cincinnati. But, the bill was amended at the last minute to include wholesale changes to the operation of academic distress commissions that oversee troubled school districts including Youngstown.
“We all agree that our children deserve the best education we can provide them,” said Senator Schiavoni. “But, this plan is flawed and the concerns expressed today show there was not enough public input in putting the plan together in the first place. This is our community and everyone, especially parents and teachers, should be part of the solution. One person should not be given the power to make all the decisions. We all need to work together to improve the Youngstown schools.”
HB 70 establishes an appointed Academic Distress Commission that hires a CEO to “exercise complete operational, managerial and instructional control of the district.” The CEO’s authority includes the following: replace administrators and staff, make staff reductions, set class sizes, determine curriculum and select instruction materials. In addition, the CEO has the power to suspend/alter collective bargaining contracts, reconstitute any school as a charter school or close a school entirely.
The plan also gives incentives for students to leave Youngstown schools by giving them vouchers to enroll in private schools and providing bonuses to school districts that accept Youngstown students.
In a letter sent today to The University of Akron President Scott Scarborough, Rep. Greta Johnson (D-Akron) expressed her concern over the recent announcement that UA will begin charging an additional $50 per credit hour for upper level classes.
“The letter reflects my own personal concerns as well as those of my constituents whom are directly impacted and have contacted my office,” said Johnson. “The new fee comes directly following the passage of the state budget which featured a tuition freeze and other efforts to prevent significant increases in the cost of higher education.”
The content of Rep. Johnson’s letter is below:
Dear President Scarborough,
As State Representative of the 35th District, I write in opposition to The University of Akron’s recently introduced $50-per-credit-hour fee for upper level courses. As an alumna of The University of Akron, I am invested in its future and am confident that this institution will overcome its current financial struggles. However, this new fee is not the way to foster that success and will create an additional, undue burden on hardworking students and families.
In the recently passed budget for the State of Ohio, the Legislature and Administration recognized that the cost of higher education in Ohio already presents a significant financial burden to middle and low-income families and took steps to ensure that this cost was not substantially increased. The new fee imposed by The University of Akron will do just that by raising the cost of education significantly for students taking the impacted courses. I find it troubling that this is The University of Akron’s response to the State’s freezing of tuition.
I would strongly urge The University of Akron to reconsider the administration of this new fee as it goes against the state budget’s legislative intent and makes an education through The University of Akron less accessible for many hardworking and deserving students.
If you would like to discuss these issues further, please do not hesitate to contact my office.
Representative to the 35th House District
State Reps. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) and Sarah LaTourette (R-Bainbridge) today announced a bi-partisan effort to create jobs and drive economic growth by making Ohio a destination for the recording industry. The Ohio Sound Recording Investor Tax Credit, also known as OhioSounds, will work to attract more of the almost $7 billion in annual music industry revenue to the state.
“Ohio is the birthplace of legendary musicians, unforgettable songs and ‘Rock N’ Roll’,” said Rep. Smith. “OhioSounds honors our proud legacy and works to cultivate a winning model moving forward. Ohio can become a destination for musicians, producers and industry leaders who will create jobs and strengthen our local economies. The OhioSounds tax credit will solidify our commitment to Ohio’s musical heritage and create new music that will provide the soundtrack to our lives.”
“Much like the Ohio film tax credit, this legislation seeks to incentivize investment in Ohio and create jobs in a dynamic industry,” Representative LaTourette stated. “Northeast Ohio has seen quite an investment in response to the film tax credit, with major motion pictures filmed on the streets of Cleveland and throughout our region. Given our history as the birthplace of Rock n’ Roll, it just makes sense to extend that incentive to the music industry and embrace our heritage as musical innovators.”