Ohio first to target K-3 in voucher program

Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013 @ 12:00 AM
Updated: Sunday, March 10, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

            Charlotte Lovelace picks up her kids, Carrie, 10, and Molly, 8, at Middletown Christian School, Friday, March 8, 2013. Ohio governor John Kasich has proposed an expansion of Ohio's EdChoice school voucher program. The Lovelace's use publicly funded vouchers to send their girls to Middletown Christian School, which is a private school. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
            Greg Lynch

Join us at noon Thursday for a live chat about school vouchers with Terry Ryan, vice president for Ohio programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Dayton, and Mario Basora, superintendent of Yellow Springs Exempted Village Schools. Click here to submit your questions for them in advance.

Ohio may become the first state in the nation to offer publicly funded vouchers to K-3 students whose schools fail to hit the bar in reading.

“That literacy emphasis to spark eligibility is definitely a first,” said Jeff Reed, communications director for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice in Indianapolis.

Gov. John Kasich’s controversial proposed expansion of the state’s Educational Choice Scholarship program has drawn criticism from some and praise from others.

Proponents believe the EdChoice vouchers, as they are commonly known, offer more school choice, but opponents are against using public dollars to help fund private education.

Since 2006, the program has allowed students in chronically low-performing public schools to move to private or parochial schools using the vouchers. The numbers have grown from about 3,000 the first year to more than 16,000 today. The state pays about $66 million annually on EdChoice.

Lawmakers would have to approve the proposals, which include expanding the program to include low-income kindergartners and low-income first-graders.

In 2015-16, under the governor’s proposal, voucher eligibility also would extend to all students in grades K-3 in a school building that gets low marks in the early literacy measure on the new report cards. This would be tied to the new Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

“If a school consistently fails to provide their students with the basic reading skills they need to succeed in school, we want to make sure that parents have alternatives,” said Barbara Mattei-Smith, Kasich’s assistant policy director for education.

Yellow Springs Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Mario Basora opposes the expansion and will testify before a House education funding subcommittee Tuesday.

“I think it ultimately has the effect of undermining a good quality public education,” Basora said. “In an era when we keep being told the funds are low and we continually have to make cuts, I’m concerned we are taking public funds and spreading them around to private schools in this way.”

Kasich’s education reforms include $8.5 million in fiscal year 2014 and $17 million in FY15 for vouchers to students in households below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

State officials said the voucher expansion would be paid for from a separate fund and not deducted from school districts. The expansion tied to K-3 literacy would continue to financially impact those districts that lose voucher-users. The vouchers would be $4,250 for K-8 and $5,000 for 9-12.

In Springfield, 191 of the 530 students at Emmanuel Christian Academy are there on vouchers.

Dan Bragg, superintendent and high school principal, said many of those students never would have had these opportunities without vouchers.

“I think having private schools in the mix so that people can make choices — the whole free enterprise kind of mentality — is good for education,” Bragg said. “It says you need to do what you do and you need to do it well and if you don’t do it well, people are going to march to some other place.”

Most vouchers in area go to students in six districts

Nearly 3,000 students were awarded EdChoice scholarships in the Dayton area this school year, with two-thirds of them coming from Montgomery County. Another 635 were awarded in Clark County, 142 in Warren and at least 85 in Butler County.

>>Click here to download a PDF of attendance numbers at local EdChoice schools.<<

In the Miami Valley, the existing voucher program impacts six districts with low-performing schools — Dayton Public, Trotwood-Madison, Preble Shawnee, Springfield, Middletown and Jefferson Twp.

Dayton Public Superintendent Lori Ward is concerned expansion could lead to more students leaving the district and their funding following them out the door.

The district lost $7.3 million this school year alone due to vouchers, she said. Ward said she cannot find an “educational reason” behind extending it to low-income students and tying it to early literacy doesn’t acknowledge the challenges at play beyond the schools’ efforts, such as family life.

“That implies the school district has complete ownership of that early literacy,” she said.

Third graders at Park Layne Elementary in Bethel Twp., including Joseph Blackburn, center, practice reading from a book about Martin Luther King, Jr. during class Tuesday. Staff photo by Bill Lackey

30 percent of students at Middletown private school use vouchers

At Middletown Christian School, 142 of the 495 students in grades K-12 are there on EdChoice scholarships. Most of those students are coming from Middletown but they do get a couple from Dayton, Superintendent Mark Spradling said.

“It has opened up an opportunity for a number of families that couldn’t afford Christian, private education. In that way, it has been a great blessing,” he said.

Spradling said because nearly 30 percent of its student body are voucher-users, that has led to a positive impact financially – more than $500,000 annually in tuition subsidies.

Charlotte Lovelace, filled out her EdChoice scholarship renewal forms on Thursday for her two daughters, Carrie, 10, a fourth grader, and Molly, 8, a second grader.

They have been attending Middletown Christian School for two years on vouchers after Carrie finished first-grade at Highview Elementary in Middletown, one of the low-rated schools.

“I wanted them to have the Christ background and to learn about God each and every day. Those things were crucially important to me,” she said.

Lovelace is not concerned about taxpayer money being used to send her kids to a private school but she knows others might be upset about that.

“I understand a lot of the concern is where the money ends up going, but the truth of the matter is the only person hurting would be the child,” she said. “If they can get a good education from a school that is not failing and the government might be able to place them there in order to achieve that, who cares who gets the money?”

One person who feels strongly about that is Joe Lacey, president of the Dayton Public school board. He opposes those public funds being used in that way.

“The main concept behind choice is competition,” he said, “but we’re not on the same playing field if not all the competitors have the same accountability.”

Author J.D. Vance returns to Middletown for grads, reveals plans

Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 @ 9:17 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 @ 9:19 PM

Middletown High School graduate and internationally famous author J.D. Vance closed a highly personal circle in his life Tuesday when he delivered the commencement speech to graduates from his former school.

But before he took the stage in front of the overflowing audience at Princeton Pike Church, Vance talked exclusively with the Journal-News.

The best-selling author of “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” shared some details on the Hollywood movie of his life — directed and produced by Academy Award winner Ron Howard — and his hopes of bettering the white, working class Americans depicted so poignantly in his seminal book.

MORE: Middletown native J.D. Vance talks upcoming Hollywood movie

He also weighed in the recent controversy surrounding a dean from his graduate school — Yale University — who blasted “white trash” in a racist social media rant.

And he revealed his optimism in bridging the chasm surrounding the often ignored but sizable portion of America’s demographics.

A college commencement speaker in much demand since his book rocketed him to stardom, Middletown was his first high school graduation speech and it got to him emotionally.

MORE: J.D. Vance speech at Miami University Middletown brings home best-selling author

“It’s a pretty special thing to do. It’s sort of amazing to think that 14 years ago I was graduating from Middletown High School and obviously quite a bit has happened,” said the 32-year-old who now lives in Columbus. He has formed Our Ohio Renewal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing high-quality employment and educational opportunities to Ohioans and addressing the state’s destructive opioid crisis.

“I couldn’t help but to look at the kids and think to myself what will they be thinking about in 14 years? What will they have done? What will they have accomplished? It’s a pretty exciting opportunity to close that circle for me,” said Vance.

Vance has said he was surprised when his best-selling book was embraced as a primer for national political pundits leading up to — and especially after — last year’s presidential election. It proved popular as sort of a Rosetta Stone for the country’s news media in deciphering President Donald Trump’s support among America’s poor working class.

STORY & VIDEO: Middletown author’s book helps explain President Donald Trump’s popularity

Vance has since made the national TV media rounds, expanding on one of the book’s key themes: The controlling governmental, business, entertainment and academic elites of America have little if any understanding of the significant demographic composed of this often overlooked segment of our society.

Moreover, the divide continues.

Just last week at Vance’s former college — Yale University — Dean June Chu of the school’s Pierson College was placed on leave after posting Yelp reviews calling customers at local restaurants “white trash” and “low class folks,” according to media accounts.

Vance shook his head recalling the incident.

His years at Yale were marked by persistent reminders that his poor Appalachian roots made him an anomaly there.

“When I saw that story I just thought it is unfortunately an attitude that exists a little bit too much in elite institutions. This idea that people aren’t worthwhile (or) they are not good because of where they came from, or maybe because of their accent or their approach to thinking about the world,” he said.

“That’s one of the reasons I wrote the book, because I think that attitude is very real. And it’s unfortunately something I really do think drives a divide between educational institutions’ so-called elites and a lot of folks who are just working and trying to get by. I was pretty disappointed when I heard those remarks,” said Vance.

Though he understands the media’s focus on the darker sides of his memoir — and has freely discussed his own and his family’s personal challenges — Vance said there are other, more positive pieces to the puzzle of his life he wishes would get more attention.

He was wary of running into similar prejudice among the well-documented elitist attitudes of some in Hollywood.

He turned down other movie producers for those reasons until meeting with Howard, a two-time Academy Award-winning director, whom he said understood the importance of portraying key figures in his life story beyond a two-dimensional scale.

“I was definitely worried about that. But what I really liked about Ron Howard is that he seemed to take a really compassionate and a really sympathetic eye to the problems I wrote about,” Vance said.

He hopes some of the movie will be shot in Middletown.

Which Hollywood star does he want to play him?

“Chris Pratt,” he said, laughing in reference to the popular star of the recently released “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” “So people will think I’m better looking than I actually am.”

Middletown picks top Lakota official as new superintendent

Published: Monday, May 22, 2017 @ 6:21 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 @ 11:15 AM

One of the rising stars of Lakota Local Schools will become the new leader of Middletown City Schools, the Journal-News was the first to report Monday.

Marlon Styles Jr., the executive director of curriculum and instruction for Lakota, was chosen through unanimous vote by the Middletown Board of Education on Monday evening as the district’s next superintendent.

MORE: 3 finalists for Middletown Superintendent job

“We will be innovative and modernize our approach to provide our students with a strong educational experience and we will introduce a strong sense of Middletown pride and I hope to be the source of inspiration for that in this district and this community,” Styles told the board after the vote.

Styles, who is a former principal of Mount Healthy High School in Hamilton County, said, “I’m looking forward to partnering with you and the community to making a difference in the lives of our students … and I’m ready to get to work.”

Middletown School Board President Chris Urso said the 37-year-old Styles won over the five-member governing board of the Butler County city school system with his resume, intelligence and leadership qualities.

“He comes here with a past that is full of great experiences, being at Mount Healthy and being at Lakota, you can see the young man is ready for this challenge. The charisma, the intellect, all those pieces gives us the utmost confidence that as superintendent he’ll lead our district in a good direction,” Urso said after the vote.

Styles, who will earn $138,000 annually, will replace current superintendent Sam Ison, who initially retired but then accepted a principal’s job with Wayne Local Schools in Warren County.

MORE: Middletown Schools’ leader leaving

Styles will be the first African American to serve as superintendent in Middletown Schools’ history, though the district has had a black, interim superintendent.

About 18 percent of Middletown’s 6,400 students are African American.

Styles moved from Mount Healthy Schools to Lakota Schools in 2013 and is credited by district officials there with revamping and modernizing the 16,500-student’s curricula, particularly in the areas of classroom instruction focusing more on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

MORE: Styles hired as new Lakota curriculum leader

Prior to his Mount Healthy stint he served as assistant principal at Hamilton County’s Wyoming High School and Northwest High School and as a middle school math teacher in the Winton Woods Schools.

He is a graduate of Thomas More College and earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Cincinnati.

In his cover letter that accompanied his application for the Middletown job, Styles cited newly adopted strategic goals for improving the troubled city school district, which in recent years has been one of the lowest performing districts in Southwest Ohio according to the state’s annual report card.

“I believe I have the diverse experience, leadership, skills and commitment you are looking for to lead the Middletown Schools,” wrote Styles in documents obtained by the Journal-News last week through a public records request.

“In collaboration with all Middletown city school district stakeholders, we would infuse modern learning opportunities into our schools to positively impact student learning,” wrote Styles.

Veteran Lakota Board of Education member Ray Murray, who cast a vote in 2013 to hire Styles, praised the new Middletown leader as a “smart choice for the job of superintendent of the Middletown School district.”

“His knowledge of curriculum design and professional development will bring a positive and immediate impact on student learning. Marlon is a true leader in education and the residents of Middletown are getting a top notch superintendent,” said Murray.

Under Ohio law, school boards hire district superintendents and treasurers. Traditionally, superintendent contracts begin on Aug. 1, but Middletown board members included a stipulation in Styles’ contract that he will work 15 days total for Middletown in the months of June and July.

In March, the board hired the K12 Business Consulting search firm to assist in developing a superintendent search profile and to recruit potential candidates.

The same firm earlier this handled Lakota’s search for a new superintendent, resulting in the hiring of Matt Miller.

MORE: Record turnover among Butler, Warren county superintendents

School officials offered online surveys to city residents and held a series of public input meetings to formulate a candidate profile and the qualities district officials, school employees, residents, business and city leaders were seeking in a new superintendent.

Work is continuing on a $96 million transformation of the Middletown High School campus that includes the building of a new middle school and a massive renovation of the adjacent high school.

The two schools will be connected by a new gym and athletic center. The two projects are scheduled to be completed in 2018, though some high school classroom spaces will be opened this spring.

Cincinnati State to tap beer brewing degree

Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 @ 10:01 AM

            John Loftis holds up a glass of Mother Stewart’s beer to the light in their brew house in Springfield. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Cincinnati State will announce the launch of the region’s first degree in brewing science today.

Cincinnati State and leaders of the local craft beer and brewing industry will make the announcement at 10:30 a.m. today about the Associate of Applied Science Degree in Brewing degree.

RELATED: New microbrewery, taproom coming to Butler County

Employers in the fast-growing craft beer industry say the new degree will help close the skill gap and accelerate Cincinnati’s growing reputation as a “bastion of brewing.”

It is the first two-year Brewing Science degree program in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana and was designed with extensive input brewing industry leaders, university leaders said.

RELATED: New Middletown brewery aims to bridge beer towns of Cincinnati, Dayton

Those expected at the announcement include: Monica Posey, president of Cincinnati State, Chef Alan Neace, Associate Dean of Midwest Culinary Institute, Carla Gesell-Streeter, program chair for Brewing Science program, brewing student Ryan Osner, a veteran and employee at Rhinegeist, area brewing industry leaders, area chambers of commerce and state and local officials.

School board to consider member’s resignation, new teacher contract

Published: Monday, May 22, 2017 @ 12:02 PM

            Carlisle High School. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Just weeks after voters approved a bond issue to build a new K-12 building, the Carlisle Board of Education will consider the resignation of a board member as well as a new contract for teachers at tonight’s meeting.

Board member David Clay submitted his resignation over the weekend, Superintendent Larry Hook confirmed with this news outlet.

MORE: Majority of Carlisle voters back bond issue

Clay has served on the school board for the past 10 years, according to Hook, and his current four-year term would have expired on Dec. 31.

RELATED: Middletown to interview 3 superintendent finalists

The board will appoint a new member to the board in the coming weeks and that seat will be one of three that will be open in the Nov. 7 general election.

Also on tonight’s agenda is consideration of a new three-year contract for the district’s teachers. Hook declined to comment on the details of the new agreement with the Carlisle Teachers Association prior to the board meeting.

TEACHER CONTRACT TALKS: Iffy during state budget negotiations

As part of the negotiations, the board will consider the creation of a new position of athletic director/assistant principal, according to the agenda.

In a personnel matter, a public hearing on the retire/rehire request of high school teacher Mark Townsley and elementary teacher Sue Centers will also be held at tonight’s meeting.

RELATED: More details on Carlisle bond issue

Hook is also expected to give an update about the new K-12 building. He said he will be meeting with officials from the Ohio School Financing Commission today and will update the board on those discussions.

The Carlisle Board of Education will meet at 5:50 p.m. for the public hearing, with the regular meeting starting at 6 p.m. in the choir/lecture room at Carlisle High School, 250 Jamaica Road.