Organized advocacy is good for our community
I moved to Cleveland Heights in 1979, drawn by its racial integration and lively civic culture—good reasons to move to an aging first-ring suburb. Here, being an engaged citizen is not only essential; it is also rewarding.
Our community is no place to be passive. Our challenges are plenty: We must end state disinvestment in municipal government and public education, overcome the lasting fallout from the housing crisis, build a truly inclusive community, maintain a viable tax base, confront climate change and economic inequality and end the glorification of exurban living. The list goes on.
We are up against a lot. Unfiltered Internet complaints notwithstanding, we have plenty of people who look out for one another, engage in debate and problem-solving, seek to understand complex issues and participate in the political process. People want our community to be a good place to live. I do not always agree with my fellow citizens, but there is a tradition here of people airing their concerns, and, for the most part, this has healthy results.
It is a privilege to join with other Heights residents to advocate for good policies and to challenge barriers to opportunity. It has enriched my life, and I hope it has helped push forward changes that allow more people to have the comforts I enjoy.
During this election season, I was thrilled by the chance to work with supporters of the school levy (Issue 69 on the November ballot) to advocate for state-policy changes that would bring relief from the levy cycle. We advocated for an end to “deduction funding,” the harmful state policy that diverts funds appropriated by the legislature for public schools to private schools. More than half of the state aid to our public schools is used to pay for private education.
Deduction funding reduces the state’s contribution to public schools and forces districts that lose state funds to rely more on locally raised funds. State funds pay for less, even though the DeRolph v. Ohio decision of 1997 required the state to invest more and carry a larger share of the cost. Long-awaited school-funding-reform legislation has been proposed through House Bill 305. If passed, it would address the constitutional issues of DeRolph and end deduction funding.
The League of Women Voters of Ohio is a longtime advocate for adequate and equitable funding of public schools. The Cleveland Heights-University Heights chapter of the league, led by Maryann Barnes, connects the local levy to the need to end deduction funding, as HB 305 would. Similarly, the school-levy committee has cited the uncontrolled increase in private-education costs as the driver of the district’s financial problems. In a short amount of time, these two networks mobilized 300 postcard-writers to lobby state senators and House Speaker Robert Cupp to end deduction funding. We ran out of postcards long before we ran out of advocates willing to send them.
I don’t know if this advocacy will change a state legislature that has shown its preference for private education, but legislative leaders now know that people in Cleveland Heights and University Heights will not roll over and accept a policy that undermines our quality of life.
Without the chance to mount resistance, I would have felt helpless to defend my community from this threat. I am so grateful to my fellow Heights advocates who helped with this project, who consistently take the time to get involved, and who are ready to step up and do what they can. They are reliable, energetic and sincere.
This is just the latest episode to make me grateful for putting down roots in Cleveland Heights.
Susie Kaeser is a 40-year resident of Cleveland Heights and the former director of Reaching Heights. She is active in the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.