From 5th to 23nd in the Nation - Ohio's National Education Rating Falls


State Senator Peggy Lehner’s Tenure of Failure on Education

by Scott A. Pullins


            Term limits has resulted in Members of the Ohio General Assembly being appointed to prominent positions with little experience.  Most of us are used to that now, and legislative leaders have little choice in some cases.  But sometimes their decisions are real head scratchers, and have real world consequences and an adverse effect on state policy.


            Case in point.  In 2010 State Representative Peggy Lehner, who had served a single term in the Ohio House, and a few months in the state senate to fill a vacancy during a lame duck session, was appointed to another senate vacancy.


              In obtaining this coveted appointment, Lehner was chosen over five other choices including conservative favorite, CPA, and unsuccessful statewide candidate Seth Morgan.  This choice was wholly inexplicable to some observers.  Lehner had served a single, undistinguished term in the Ohio House minority.  She had limited business or prior private sector professional experience.  She had previously served as a local council member and on the board of the Ohio Ethics Commission, a plum usually given to political supporters of the governor, but nothing was notable about either tenure.


            In 2012 she was elected to her first full term in the Ohio Senate and was shortly after named Chairman of the influential Education Committee.  That appointment was also puzzling.  Lehner has never served as a teacher, a school board member, or in any educational related position.  She holds a bachelors degree in history from a tiny, obscure private religious college in Indiana.  The college of 1700 students is best known for its equine studies program which houses fifty horses on campus.


            State Senator Lehner has said publicly that she has spent thousands of hours studying, reading reports, and attending conferences to learn more about education policy.  But what has been the result?  How has Ohio fared on education during her tenure in office?  The objective data is rather bleak.


            In 2010 as Senator Lehner was being sworn into the Ohio Senate, Education Week ranked Ohio schools as the 5th best in the nation.  Ohio’s overall score was 81.2 good enough for a B-.


            But as her tenure continued, something went drastically wrong in Ohio.  As she was being sworn in as Chairman of the Ohio Senate Education Committee, Education Week dropped Ohio’s score seven points, down to 12th best in the nation.


            By 2016, after three years as education chair, Ohio took another hit in its national report card.  Ohio is now ranked 23rd in the nation, with a score of 74.5.


            The American Legislative Exchange Council, which publishes an annual Report Card on American Education, in their latest report published in 2015 ranked Ohio 29th best in the nation, down from 21st best in 2011.  They gave Ohio a C+, down from a B in 2011.


            Even Ohio’s own report card on its schools is a disaster.  Nearly 60 percent of Ohio schools received a D or F.  Less than 15 percent received an A or B grade.  But its difficult to know what these rankings mean because Ohio has changed its method of calculating the scores three times in the last three years.


            What is going wrong in Ohio education?  There is a common denominator. 


            Common Core was adopted in 2010 and Senator Lehner has led the fight to keep Ohio in long after most officials woke up to its absurdity.  She called efforts to repeal it a circus and blamed conservative talk radio hosts for ginning up opposition to the program.  According to her own estimates, Ohio has spent over $1 billion in taxpayer dollars to implement the plans.


            Senator Lehner also opposed any efforts to end PARCC testing, the common core testing scheme that was cancelled after just one year.  That price tag to taxpayers exceeded $26 million.


            If you read enough of her quotes, Senator Lehner begins to sound strangely repetitive.  She constantly argues for allegedly higher standards, “accountability,” and higher quality, all measured by lengthier, more expensive, and more difficult testing.  But what if those ideas are actually what is making Ohio’s schools decline, and not actual performance?  What if this push is simply the result of millions of dollars poured into groups like the Fordham Institute from Gates and others?  What if Senator Lehner’s judgment on this issue has been clouded by her sister’s involvement?


          Now, one state senator is not wholly responsible for all education policy in a state as large and diverse as Ohio. But, she has consistently and aggressively advocated for these positions; for Common Core, against critical kinds of school choice for the hardest to educate at risk school children, for a Report Card system that absurdly claims that over 80% of school buildings in Ohio are receiving either a “D” or an “F,” for PARCC testing and its resultant (and expensive) failure, while providing political cover for Ohio’s Department of Education as an ex officio Member, to act outside of the laws and rules of the State of Ohio.  As an influential committee chair, her voice had been respected by her colleagues and eaten up by the mainstream news media.


            One of Senator Lehner’s colleagues, who asked to remain anonymous, had this to say about her.  "She would push 200 page bills and describe all of these experts who helped develop the legislation.  Now we know one of the experts is a family member and the other is a major stakeholder from Dayton." "I can't trust anything she sends to the committee moving forward."


            Neither can we Senator.  Neither can we.