FACT: Cleveland public schools aren't what they should be, but positive changes are taking place. Vouchers only undercut the ability of these public schools to improve.
Without question, the Cleveland public schools have serious work to do in ensuring that all of the city's students have access to a quality education. Voucher advocates focus on the negative statistics, but ignore many signs that the city's public schools are laying the groundwork for significant and sustained reforms. For example, Cleveland's 4th-grade reading scores are up 44 percent since 1998.25 The district has 13 public schools that were honored for high performance in a recent report on high-poverty and high-minority schools by the Education Trust-in fact, more Cleveland public schools were so recognized than in any other urban district in Ohio.26 Student suspensions in the middle- and high-school grades have declined.27
The Cleveland public schools are also making a concerted effort to reach out to parents. Parents are getting more involved. The state chapter of the Ohio Parent Teacher Association recently awarded Cleveland's PTA for the largest annual increase in membership (31 percent). During this time, the number of Cleveland public schools with active PTA chapters jumped by more than 30 percent.28 But efforts to mobilize teachers, parents and the community are undercut when critical funds are diverted to vouchers. In the first five years of the Cleveland voucher program, as much as $27.6 million was diverted to vouchers. These dollars could have improved public schools by funding after-school programs and smaller classes, and easing budgetary pressures-pressures that forced Cleveland officials to eliminate all-day kindergarten for non-magnet schools during the voucher program's first year.29
As noted earlier, the state's education funding formula has created additional obstacles. Legislators and the governor haven't adequately responded to the Ohio Supreme Court's repeated rulings that the state's school aid formula is unconstitutional.