Voucher Money Pours Into Ohio Governor’s Race

The Cleveland Plain Dealer looks at the large out-of-state donations to Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell’s campaign for governor and finds that–along with major right-wing funders like Richard Scaife and Howard Ahmanson–Blackwell’s benefactors are advocates of school vouchers.

National charter-school advocates are digging deep to help underwrite Ken Blackwell’s gubernatorial campaign.

No single issue has delivered more out-of-state $10,000 donations than school choice. Blackwell has received more than $100,000 from donors outside Ohio who favor voucher programs and taxpayer-funded private schools, according to a Plain Dealer analysis of $10,000 contributors.

Clint Bolick, head of both Advocates for School Choice and Alliance for School Choice, says that “The school choice movement has no greater friend than Ken Blackwell.”

While Blackwell has made the so-called “65 percent solution” the centerpiece of his education platform, he also advocates expanding Ohio’s voucher program. He serves on the boards of various pro-voucher groups, such as Ohio School Choice Committee, Children First America (CEO America), and the Black Alliance for Education Opportunity, and he has a history of pushing radical school privatization.

In a 1997 case brought by many of the state’s poorest school districts, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that using local property taxes as the primary method of funding public education did not meet the standard required by the state constitution to “secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State.” To comply with the court’s decision, Ohio had to redesign school funding – putting more of the responsibility for creating a more equitable system of school funding with the state, rather than local districts.

Blackwell, then serving as Ohio treasurer, took a hard line against Governor Voinovich and other Republican leaders, who proposed an increase in the state sales tax from 5 to 6 percent. As Voinovich said, “Everyone recognizes if we are going to respond to the … decision, we need more money” at the state level. But Blackwell warned against letting schools “pick the pockets of taxpayers” and proposed instead somehow shrinking the state government across the board. In a 30-second TV ad, he railed against “special interests” who “tell us the only answer is even more state taxes” and pushed vouchers – public school funds redirected to private and parochial schools – as the solution to school “reform” instead of adequately funding the poorest schools. The ad, an unusual effort for a treasurer, was funded by corporate contributions through an advocacy group founded by Blackwell’s former campaign manager and was seen as part of his campaign for the 1998 governor’s race. (Cincinnati Post, 6/10/1997; Cincinnati Post, 10/2/1997)

Blackwell’s proposal was to stop directly funding public schools altogether – by giving vouchers to all students and making all Ohio schools voucher schools. Under Blackwell’s plan, each student would receive the same baseline voucher amount, but there would be no limit on what parents who could afford more would be able to spend on top of that–a situation that would seem to put poorer children at a clear disadvantage, and to create less profit incentive for higher-quality private schools to expand in poorer areas. (Cincinnati Post, 8/9/1997)