Just two days before the general election, President Barack Obama made his case to 13,500 people packed into the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena and 2,000 in an overflow room.
Obama cast the race in comparisons to the previous two presidents, comparing his policies with those of Bill Clinton and equating Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s plans with those of George W. Bush.
“So stay with me then,” Obama said. “We’ve got ideas that work, and we’ve got ideas that don’t work, so the choice should be pretty clear.”
With less than 48 hours before polls open on Election Day, a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll had Obama and his Republican challenger locked in a statistical dead heat. However the same poll showed Obama with a slight edge in Ohio, up 48 percent to Romney’s 44 percent.
Obama touted his first-term accomplishments, including ending the war in Iraq; ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy preventing homosexuals from serving openly in the military; and overhauling the country’s health care system.
“It’s not just about policy, it’s about trust. Who do you trust?” the president asked, flanked by a sea of supporters waving blue “Forward” signs.
“Look, Ohio, you know me by now. You may not agree with every decision I’ve made, Michelle doesn’t always agree with me. You may be frustrated with the pace of change … but I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”
Nonpartisan political fact-checker PolitiFact on Nov. 3 took a look at Obama’s record on keeping his campaign promises from 2008. The group rated 38 percent as Kept, 16 percent Compromised and 17 percent Broken.
Twice during his speech the president was interrupted by audience members shouting from the stands.
The first was a man on the balcony level of the arena interrupted, shouting anti-abortion slogans and waving a sign showing mutilated fetuses before being dragged out by about five law enforcement officers. Both were drowned out by supporters.
Music legend Stevie Wonder opened the rally for Obama, playing a number of his hits, opening up “Superstition” with a refrain of “on the right track, can’t go back.”
Wonder discussed abortion policy between songs and urged Ohioans who had not already voted to do so either early on Monday or Election Day.
So far, 28 percent of Ohio voters have already cast their ballots. CNN reports that those votes favor Obama 63/35, according to public polling.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Romney campaigned before an estimated crowd of 25,000 in Pennsylvania, according to the Secret Service.
Political rallies always draw a number of the loyal opposition, and this late-evening appearance was no different. Only five people protested near the line to the arena, but what they lacked in number they attempted to make up for in message.
One large sign read “Obama: 666” and another “Obama is the Beast,” alluding to a character in the Christian Biblical book of Revelation.
A man who only identified himself as Brooks carried a large anti-abortion sign that showed pieces of a dismembered fetus.
“I’m here to stand up for the innocent blood that has been shed in this land to the tune of 56 million,” Brooks said. He said he was opposed to the politics of both major party presidential candidates.
“I pray for Barack Obama because his beliefs are of the Antichrist, just like Romney,” Brooks said.
Brooks said his message for those in line was for them to vote for Jesus — not on the ballot, but through their actions and through candidates that espoused Christian beliefs.
“Obama is not going to change things, Romney is not going to change things,” Brooks said. “In the last days there are many Christs, but not the Christ of the Bible. The Christ of the Bible is not for killing children, is not for homosexual marriage.”
The report, which was put together by Agenda 360 and Vision 2015, compares Cincinnati to other cities in a series of economic indicators. The cities compared were Cincinnati; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Cleveland; Columbus; Denver; Indianapolis, Ind.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Pittsburgh; Raleigh, N.C.; and St. Louis.
First, the good news: Cincinnati has an unemployment rate
lower than the national average, at 7.2 percent. As far as job growth,
total jobs, per-person income and average annual wage goes, Cincinnati
ranked No. 6. Cincinnati was also No. 5 in poverty ranks — meaning the
city had the fifth least people below 200 percent of the federal poverty
level among the 12 cities measured. For the most part, Cincinnati moved up in these ranks since 2010.
When it comes
to housing opportunities, Cincinnati claimed the No. 2 spot, only losing to
Indianapolis. That was a bump up from the No. 3 spot in 2010.
The bad news: Cincinnati didn’t do well in almost
every other category. In terms of educational attainment — meaning the
percent of the population 25 years or older who have a bachelor’s
degree or higher — Cincinnati was No. 9, with 29.3 percent having a bachelor's degree or higher in 2010. That was a slight improvement from the No. 10 rank in the previous report, which found 28.5 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher in 2009.
Cincinnati did poorly in net migration as well. The city was No. 10 in that category, only beating out St. Louis and Cleveland. The silver lining is the city actually gained 1,861 people in 2009 — an improvement from losing 1,526 people in 2008.
Cincinnati also seems to have an age problem. The city
tied with Pittsburgh for the No. 10 spot with only 60.2 percent of the 2011 population made up of people between the ages of 20 and 64. The report also says the
city has too many old people, an age group that tends to work less, provide less tax revenue and use more government and health services. Cincinnati ranked No. 8 in terms of “Old Age
Dependency,” with 20.4 percent of the city made up of people aged 65 and
older in 2011.
However, the report does have a positive note through all the numbers: “In fact, our current pace of growth, especially in the people indicators, exceeds many of our competitors and if this pace continues, our rank could be much improved by our next report.”
Child poverty and its causes will be one of the main focuses of the conference. Nearly 15 million children in the United States, or 21 percent of all children, live in families below the federal poverty level, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP). A study from the NCCP found Cincinnati has the third-worst children’s poverty rate at 48 percent. Only Detroit and Cleveland were worse, with 53.6 percent and 52.6 percent, respectively.
“We’re going to look at all the range of policies and practices and the impact of those and what we can do,” CDF President Marian Wright told WVXU today. “It’s going to be a real teach-in on what we must do to move forward and stop the move backwards, which I think we’re in the midst of.”
The conference will also look at education issues. It seeks to shine light on the issue of the achievement gap between the poor and non-poor and racial disparities. A 2011 analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics found black and Hispanic students are behind their white peers by 20 test-points in math and reading tests provided by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The difference equates to about two grade levels.
The conference will also look at child health care services, zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools and tools and programs that can be used to improve the lives of struggling children.
Anyone is free to register at CDF’s website to join the conference. Experts, doctors and activists will also be there.
Speaking in front of Ohio school administrators Thursday, Gov. John Kasich unveiled a surprisingly progressive-sounding education reform plan that seeks to diminish school funding inequality, but it also expands Ohio’s flawed voucher program.
Kasich said the plan will not cut any school district’s funding, but it will work to reduce gaps between the wealthy and poor. Currently, the poorest school district can get $700 to $800 per pupil for 20 mills of property taxes, while the wealthiest districts can get as much as $14,000 per pupil. The plan will eliminate much of that gap, according to Kasich.
Kasich’s plan will open up extra funding for students with severe disabilities and students who need to learn English, on top of a $300 million “innovation fund” that will reward schools with grants for initiatives that improve learning and teaching.
The plan will also expand the state’s voucher program to provide private school tuition for any family below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — about $46,000 for a family of four. The vouchers, which will become available in the fall, will be worth up to $4,250 a year. Parents will be allowed to choose between participating voucher schools.
But the expansion of “school choice” through more vouchers may not be a good thing. A previous Policy Matters Ohio report found expanded school choice can have negative effects on education, including worse results for students and teachers.
Kasich justified his proposals by claiming, “The Lord is watching us as we make an effort to give our children the knowledge that they want in order to be successful and to pursue their God-given destinies.”
He also said the program is fully funded, which was made possible by extra revenue gained from Ohio’s economic rebound.
On judging his proposals, Kasich said, “We need to think about this not in isolation. We need to think about this over the course of the last couple years.”
Taking the governor at his request, his administration actually signed off on education cuts in the past couple years. Cuts Hurt Ohio, a website that tracks budget cuts enacted by Kasich, shows funding to education was cut statewide by $1.8 billion. For Hamilton County, $117 million in education funding was cut.
Kasich also helped push a few education initiatives through the Ohio legislature. During the press conference, he cited his Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, which forces schools to hold back students who aren’t “proficient” in reading. Kasich also pointed to the new school report cards, which use an A-to-F grading system to give more transparency to parents and enforce higher standards for schools.
The plan will require approval from the Ohio legislature to become law. It also may face scrutiny from courts; the Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled the state's school funding system relies too much on local property taxes.
A pro-gun group called the Buckeye Firearms Foundation says it plans to send 24 school teachers through a training program to avoid mass murders in Ohio schools, which it called “victim zones.” The organization, which has been holding classes for cops and civilians in rural Adams County near Cincinnati for about 15 years, calls the program the Armed Teacher Training Program. So far, there is no word about how many teachers have applied, but the firearms group says it has been flooded with applications.
This move by the in-state gun lobby — which appears to be trying to capitalize off a tragedy linked to another slaughter — echoes the National Rifle Association's call for arming teachers after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It seems designed to push back against efforts to control access to assault rifles and plays off fears that teachers can save students by shooting it out with bad guys. In online photos at the Adams County site, there are people with military style guns, all apparently engaged in legal activities on private property.
The three-day shooting course for teachers in Ohio is supposed to cost $1,000, and the firearms association says it will pick up the tab for the educators it accepts into the class. That means it's putting its money where its munitions are — it is serious about training but does not offer to arm the teachers or buy them guns and bullets. It says it will keep the names of the teachers secret if they ask for confidentiality. The instructors are supposed to include “professional law enforcement personnel” who have faced active shooter situations:
“We believe that while there are many things we can do to help avoid mass murders at schools, it is imperative we allow teachers and administrators to respond quickly and effectively. That means having at least a few armed personnel on the scene so schools are no longer ‘victim zones.' We have resolved to create a curriculum for a standardized Armed Teach Training Program which can be adopted around the county.”
The audit reviewed Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy’s (CCPA) records for fiscal year 2010, finding Stephanie Millard, the school’s former treasurer, was overpaid by $8,307. At the same time, founder and ex-superintendent Lisa Hamm used the school credit card for $8,495 in payments to the Cincinnati Bengals, Benihana Japanese Steakhouse, Wahoo Zip Lines, Omaha Steaks and Dixie Stampede.
“These two officials saw no boundaries in how they used taxpayer dollars,” State Auditor Dave Yost said in a statement. “With each audit, we find more of the same: total disregard for the trust placed in them.”
CCPA responded to the audit by stating it has terminated the credit card and replaced it with two debit cards, which supposedly have controls in place to require approval and keep track of who’s using the cards and for what.
The school is also reviewing contracts for the next school year to ensure no further overpayments are made, on top of requiring payments be board-approved.
In March, the school fired Hamm and Millard, and the two former school officials were indicted on 26 counts of theft in office. Their attorney, Mike Allen, claims the school board approved the spending, which could mean the women didn’t break any laws.
In June, another special audit found CCPA had inappropriately spent $520,000 for various unnecessary expenditures, including bonuses, Christmas gifts, Nutrisystem weight loss products and Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber concerts.
CCPA enrolls nearly 1,200 students for kindergarten through 12th grade, with more than 95 percent coming from low-income households, according to Ohio’s school report card data. The Ohio Department of Education gave the school’s K-12 building in the West End a “D” and its K-6 building in Madisonville a “B” for the 2011-2012 school year.
The school is set to receive roughly $6 million in state dollars in 2014, up 3 percent from the year before. That follows the funding trend for Ohio’s charter schools, which are generally receiving more state money in the recently approved two-year state budget.
The tougher reading standards could potentially hold back 12 percent of Ohio third-graders, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
With the new rules, kids would be tested every year starting in Kindergarten. Any kids who are below standards would receive special tutoring, and any who fail to improve to “proficient” or above by the time of the third-grade reading test would be held back.
Similar standards were passed in Florida a decade ago. While it was rough at first with 13 percent of third-graders in Florida being held back, scores have begun improving, Patricia Levesque, former education advisor to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, told The Dispatch.
However, research shows holding kids back hurts them more than helps. After reviewing decades of research, the National Association of School Psychologists found that grade retention has “deleterious long-term effects,” both academically and socially.
Kasich has also proposed tougher grading standards for schools and districts, which he hopes will hold schools more accountable.
Republican critics don’t necessarily oppose all the reforms, but they would like to see the reforms implemented more carefully and slowly. School officials, state education groups and teachers unions have repeatedly asked for more time to tell parents and teachers about the upcoming changes.
The news comes at a time when states around the country are moving to enact education reform after years of disappointment. In 2010, the U.S. fell to a rating of “average” in the international rankings released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. ranked No. 14 out of 34 OECD countries in reading, No. 17 for science and a below-average No. 25 for math.
One bright spot was found earlier this year when a report showed U.S. high school graduation rates had increased to 75.5 percent in 2009, up from 72 percent in 2001.
President Barack Obama has tried to encourage widespread education reform with his “Race to the Top” initiative. The program pushes states to compete for funds with education reform plans. The states with the best programs are then rewarded federal funds as they implement reform.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland won funds for Ohio with his reform plan, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan congratulated Ohio for being on schedule with reforms earlier this year.
A Democrat who was challenging Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann in this fall’s election has left the race due to work commitments.
Greg Harris, a West Sider who is a former Cincinnati city councilman, said Monday night that a contract awarded to his educational consulting firm means he will be spending a large amount of time outside of the region. Harris’ firm, New Governance Group, recently was awarded a major contract with a nonprofit group in Delaware that seeks to improve public education in that state.
“When I filed (to run for commissioner), I filed in all sincerity,” Harris said. “It was before I got this contract.”
He added, “I feel bad. This was a race I really wanted to run in, but with all the traveling, I’m not equipped to give it the time it deserves.”
Harris, 40, announced his candidacy in early December, when he filed paperwork to run against Hartmann, a Republican incumbent who is seeking his second term.
The Hamilton County Democratic Party now will be able to select a replacement for Harris on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Harris was appointed in January 2009 to Cincinnati City Council to fill the unexpired term of John Cranley, who was facing term limits. But Harris lost in an election that November, finishing 10th in balloting for the nine-member group, missing the final spot by about 3,400 votes. During his brief term, Harris angered the city’s police and firefighter unions by suggesting changes that he said would improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Through his consulting firm, Harris had served as public policy advisor for Cincinnati-based KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national education philanthropy that seeds educational practices and policy reforms.
An Illinois native, Harris moved to the region in 1993 to attend graduate school at Miami University in Oxford. He stayed here after graduation and served from 2000-05 as executive director of Citizens for Civic Renewal, a nonprofit public advocacy group that promotes good government, volunteerism and civic involvement.
Harris ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) twice, in 2002 and 2004. He also was prepared to challenge Hartmann for the Hamilton County Commission seat in 2008 until Democratic Party leaders cut a deal with the GOP and asked Harris to step aside and let Hartmann run unopposed. A reluctant Harris complied.