SUDDES: East Palestine families’ needs, not their politics, are what should matter

Among the many ugly features of the Norfolk Southern Railway’s East Palestine derailment is nastiness some anonymous commenters have directed at the town’s people.

It goes something like this: Supposedly, among other factors contributing to Feb. 3′s derailment were actions by Donald Trump’s administration.

And, hey, the people of East Palestine voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 Therefore, the web’s take-joy-at-others’-misfortune crowd said in so many words that the people of East Palestine got what they asked for by backing Trump.

Specifically: Trump’s administration junked a rail-safety rule written by Barack Obama’s administration. But here’s what PolitifFact, the Poynter Institute’s respected fact-checking program, says about that:

“The Trump administration repealed an Obama-era rule requiring high-hazard cargo trains to be equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes by 2023, allowing them to brake faster. [But] even if this safety rule was in effect, it would not have applied to the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine … because it was not categorized as a high-hazard cargo train.” That is, the regulation that Trump’s administration spiked was irrelevant to the East Palestine accident. But that didn’t stop the sneers from people who enjoy others’ misery:.

Yes, the village’s residents voted — in 2016 and 2020 — for Donald Trump for president, not Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. That induced a few smug outsiders to jeer, and that’s about as mean-spirited as it gets in an era that’s plenty mean already.

The East Palestine families whose health and property the train wreck imperiled are fellow Ohioans and fellow Americans. Their needs, not their politics, are what should matter.

MEANWHILE: Ohio’s budget debate grinds on, with Ohio House committees and subcommittees reviewing the two-year spending plan GOP Gov. Mike DeWine proposed.

Among features of the debate, in what’s now separate legislation, are proposals to widen school choice options for parents. That is, some legislators and DeWine want to broaden the availability of and eligibility for vouchers to help parents cover the cost of private schooling.

Philosophically, it’s hard to argue with that idea. Still, it seems the push to allot more public resources for private schools is coming on the heels of the bipartisan Fair School Funding Plan, which is just getting rolling as part of the state budget that expires June 30.

The plan was devised by former Ohio House Speaker Robert R. Cupp, a Lima Republican, and former Rep. John Patterson a Jefferson Democrat. But while the Cupp-Patterson plan was funded for this school year, it hasn’t yet been funded for forthcoming school years.

The Fair School Funding Plan was written after a quarter-century of fiddle-faddle by the General Assembly when the Ohio Supreme Court overthrew — as unconstitutional — the rickety (in fact, all but improvised) school financing methods Ohio had used.

Those formulas short-changed pupils in property-poor school districts. That wasn’t the “thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state” the Ohio Constitution requires.

Meanwhile, the state Senate has passed a bill to place the state Education Department — to be renamed the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce — under the governor’s control by stripping the State Board of Education of its powers over the department.

In combination, all these measures (school choice expansion; Cupp-Patterson; the Education and Workforce plan) present the legislature with a more-than-full education agenda. That shouldn’t obscure legislators’ constitutional obligation — to ensure that public schools offer all Ohio pupils quality schooling no matter where they live.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at

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