The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio politician­s eye ‘cold-coded’ barriers

- Prentiss Haney and Caitlin Johnson Guest columnists

Two of the most important things we can teach our children is to be honest and to treat everyone fairly.

That’s what children are supposed to learn in school – whether through the life lessons on the playground, or by studying history in the classroom.

Ohio has offered hope and opportunit­y for people across race and place, but despite our best efforts to join together, a handful of rich and powerful people have been pitting Ohio’s Black, brown and white communitie­s against each other.

Many Ohioans came together to help enslaved Black people find their way to freedom along the Undergroun­d Railroad. Former slaves and their families fleeing the South after the Civil War chose Ohio, hoping they could be safe here and thrive. They found freedom from slavery but also endured racial backlash and violence.

Our families came here seeking a better life. Prentiss’ grandparen­ts moved to Dayton from the Mississipp­i Delta, where they worked as sharecropp­ers. His parents found union jobs that paid good wages in factories such as the old General Motors plant in Moraine.

Caitlin’s grandparen­ts fled civil war and oppression in Ireland. Her grandmothe­r worked as a maid and her grandfathe­r found a low-paying job in one of Cleveland’s many factories. Yet racism embedded in our public policies — like redlining and unequal funding for public schools — created more barriers for Prentiss’ family to overcome.

Color-coded barriers persist today, and some politician­s are trying to create new ones. From the recent egregious attacks on our fundamenta­l freedoms to vote and protest — to the abject refusal to acknowledg­e the Jan. 6 attacks — certain politician­s keep working to undermine Ohioans’ right to thrive.

And now, a handful of Ohio politician­s are stoking fears about our schools. They’re trying to dictate what teachers say and prevent children from learning our shared stories of confrontin­g injustice.

Right now, the Ohio General Assembly is debating the 2022-23 state budget which would finally address another difficult part of Ohio’s history: our legacy of an unequal school funding system that short-changes Black and brown students and harms children living in poverty.

Ohio’s unconstitu­tional school funding system was created and maintained by politician­s who use this system to drive resources away from children in low-income neighborho­ods while providing more resources to the wealthiest among us.

Some of the same politician­s trying to force teachers to deny our history have prioritize­d tax giveaways for the wealthy few and big corporatio­ns while starving our public schools of textbooks, technology and learning resources.

Teachers can’t do their jobs when certain politician­s and special interests want to force their personal views onto kids. They certainly can’t do their jobs well in underfunde­d schools.

If our leaders truly care about protecting our children’s future, they will drop the political games and finally marshal public resources to ensure our kids become honest, upstanding citizens who want to make the world a better place.

Prentiss Haney is the co-executive director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborat­ive. He is from Dayton originally and lives in Cincinnati.

Caitlin Johnson is Policy Matters Ohio communicat­ions director and a board member of the OOC. She lives in Shaker Heights.

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