In the wake of another controversial state takeover, many Ohioans are asking what schools really need to overcome adversity.

On September 21, the East Cleveland City School District (ECCSD) filed suit against the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, seeking a preliminary injunction against a state takeover of the district. After denying the district’s request for a temporary restraining order on the takeover, Judge Steven Gall set a hearing for November 26, at which point he will consider the request for injunctive action.

ECCSD leadership was notified of the pending takeover on September 13 when ODE released its annual school district report cards. For the third year running, ECCSD received an overall failing grade, automatically triggering a state takeover.

Pursuant to House Bill 70, ECCSD now faces the formation of an “academic distress commission” comprised of three members appointed by ODE Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria, one member appointed by East Cleveland Mayor Brandon King, and one teacher appointed by the ECCSD school board. Barring judicial intervention, the commission will have two months to hire a CEO who will take functional control of the district and work closely with Superintendent Myrna Loy Corley to design and execute an improvement plan.

A Difference of Opinion

As might be expected with such a dramatic reshuffling of decision-making responsibilities, the response to the proposed takeover has been as impassioned as it is divided. As East Cleveland resident Jason Calloway told ABC affiliate News 5 Cleveland, “Anything that would assist this community in getting better, it has to come forth now. We’re losing generations of kids that are…growing up in these communities that are lacking the education that they need.”

According to Corley, however, the situation is not so straightforward. East Cleveland is not only the poorest community in Ohio, but the fourth-poorest in the entire country. As such, ECCSD faces a host of challenges that more affluent districts never even have to consider — challenges that take a great deal of time and resources to overcome.

And while Corley readily admits that ECCSD is far from satisfied with its subpar standardized test results, she also remains deeply invested in educating “the whole child,” explaining, “The district’s approach [includes] having trauma-informed classrooms, cutting-edge wellness programs…and a myriad of programs and partnerships that prepare students for success.”

To Corley’s point, despite its ongoing struggles, ECCSD saw improvement in 15 of 21 performance metrics on this year’s report card, including notable increases in literacy rates and graduation rates. Unfortunately, this progress wasn’t enough to earn ECCSD a passing grade, a shortcoming ODE says left it no legal choice but to initiate a takeover.

Uncertainty over the Effectiveness of Academic Distress Commissions

In the bigger picture, the effectiveness of state takeovers remains something of an open question. “Based on the results we’ve seen? They’re not effective,” says State Representative Kent Smith. As Smith points out, the two districts currently under state control — the Lorain City School District and the Youngstown City School District — received failing grades from ODE this year, and “Lorain actually went from a ‘D’ to an ‘F.’”

Pushback from the likes of Smith and Corley has compelled the Ohio Senate to commission a study of the effectiveness of academic distress commissions. The results of the study are due to be delivered to the Senate at the beginning of May, but for the time being, state takeovers still have a number of prominent supporters in Columbus, with Governor John Kasich foremost among them.

Irrespective of the study’s findings, Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding Executive Director William Phillis believes that students in East Cleveland need access to additional resources more than anything else. “Children living in poverty don’t need a change in governance,” he argues. “They need services. Health and human services. They need additional educational services. Smaller class sizes. Tutors. Food services.”

All of these would certainly help, but the reality is that many districts — not just ECCSD — struggle to secure the funding they need. That’s where a tool like Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS Platform comes into play.

CheckPoint streamlines a district’s data collection, organization, and validation processes, guaranteeing that the district gets the full amount of funding to which it’s legally entitled. Helping every student succeed regardless of their circumstances is challenging, but it’s our mission to ensure that educators have the resources they need to do so.