Dennis Kucinich, a potential candidate for governor and former Ohio congressman, spoke Monday night in Washington Township, where he criticized charter schools as a drain on public funding and public schools.
Kucinich called charter schools a “multi-billion dollar boondoogle” that forces Ohioans to subsidize private school education with money that is supposed to go to public schools.
Charter schools are publicly funded, privately operated schools.
“If you want to send your kid to a private school, pay for it,” Kucinich said. “But don’t send your kid to private school and tell the public they have to pay for it.”
Charter school advocate Chad L. Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, called Kucinich’s comments “nothing more than naked, political grandstanding.”
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“His speech made two things abundantly clear: he’s campaigning for something and he’s willing to say just about anything to bolster his election chances,” Aldis said in an email. “His comments were especially disappointing in regards to his errant contention that charter schools are private schools and his ignoring of the comprehensive charter school reforms included in House Bill 2.”
Not ready to talk politics
Kucinich, a Cleveland Democrat who also spoke earlier Monday in Columbus, said several people in Washington Twp. asked if he was running for governor but he chose to not respond.
“I didn’t want to address it because I don’t want to politicize these appearances,” Kucinich said. “I’m really focused on trying to make sure that people are aware that the money that they’re giving to public schools is being siphoned off by a system that is unaccountable and that if we don’t stop this it will destroy public education in Ohio.”
Kiser Elementary School teacher Sarni Bensman, 52, of Dayton, said she wants to see Kucinich run.
“Since we didn’t get the president position I’d take governor for sure. He can do amazing things for Ohio,” Bensman said.
Kucinich, a former Cleveland mayor and presidential candidate, served eight terms in Congress until his district was eliminated, when the GOP-dominated Ohio legislature redrew congressional lines in 2011. That pitted him against U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo in the 2012 primary, which he lost.
Last week Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political analysis publication, said Kucinich was “looming in the background” as a possible Democratic candidate for governor. Democrats who have said they are running or are interested include Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former state representative Connie Pillich of Montgomery, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Copely. U.S. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, a former Ohio treasurer and attorney general, is also considered a potential contender.
Republicans who have announced or are interested include Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in his second and final term.
Kucinich’s Montgomery County visit was a town hall with about 75 people at the Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
Kucinich outlined his concerns about charter schools and plans to expand public funding of private schools through vouchers.
“They’re taking the money out of the public schools,” Kucinich said. “And the legislators are getting political contributions hand over fist.”
He said he and others are looking at “legal options” on how to fight the public funding of charter schools.
“It’s wide open for lawsuits , which is another thing we are looking at,” Kucinich said.
Audience members asked questions about how schools are funded, how to get stronger state audits of charter schools and how they can convince legislators to change course on funding charter schools.
Kucinich urged them to take the case to social media, to attend town halls, to go door to door and to talk to other people and their legislators at the state and federal level.
“That face to face contact is important,” Kucinich said.
Kucinich chose to speak about charters in the Dayton region “partially because the privatization has such a huge impact on Dayton Public Schools (DPS),” said Andrew Wilson, a Fairborn school board member and spokesman for Public Education Partners, which is organizing the local visit.
Dayton has one of the highest charter school penetration rates in the nation.
Of the least 22,790 students in kindergarten through 12th grade who live in the Dayton Public Schools geographical area about 13,315 attend DPS. The other 9,475 are split between charter schools (about 6,820), private schools via voucher (2,565) and a few special needs programs (less than 100), according to Ohio Department of Education data.
“Charter schools do not steal money, they do not steal students,” said Ron Adler, founder and president the pro-charter school Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, in a phone interview. “They are a school of choice. Parents are just making a decision that they would be better off in a charter school.”
Staff writer Jeremy Kelley contributed to this report.