By Frances Caldwell and Kathy Wray Coleman
CLEVELAND,Ohio-A host of prominent members of Ohio's Republican Party and a few Black Cleveland Democrats remembered former Cleveland Ward 7 Councilman Fannie Lewis for her support of the school choice movement at the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland Monday evening during the tenth year anniversary celebration of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2002 upholding of the Cleveland School Voucher Program that gives vouchers for public state funds for under privileged Cleveland children to attend parochial and private schools.
The keynote speaker was Ken Starr, whose report as then U.S. in house counsel broke the Clinton- Lewenski scandal and initiated the impeachment process against former president Bill Clinton, who ultimately received a brief suspension of his law license for lying in a deposition about his celebrated affair with the then 21-year-old Monica Lewinski, at the time a White House aid.
Ohio State Representative Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland)
Democrats state Sen. Nina Turner (D-25) and state Rep. Bill Patmon (D-10) both got an award for community service, an indication by some standards that Ohio Republicans and some Democrats are trying to bridge the bi-partisan divide, or are they?
Other Ohio Republican operatives that were among the more than 800 attendees of students, lawmakers, attorneys and community affiliates include retired U.S. Sen. and former Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich, former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery, former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, now chair of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, and Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Annette Butler, a Black Republican.
State Rep. John Barnes Jr. (D-12), a Black Cleveland Democrat like Turner and Patmon, went too, but to support Patmon, who like Turner and recipient John Zitzner, got the Fannie Lewis Heritage Award from the groups that sponsored the event, which include Ohio School Choice, a non profit school voucher advocacy organization out of Columbus.
"I am very proud of my association with Ms. Lewis, and all she did to help Cleveland's children," said Patmon in accepting his award.
A former Cleveland councilman elected as a state lawmaker in 2010, Patmon sponsored legislation that waives the 10 to 25 percent fee that Cleveland parents previously had to pay for the school vouchers.
Turner said that she was also honored to be recognized with an award that bears Lewis' name and gave a brief sermon to the majority Republican crowd, one that drew a standing ovation.
"Every child deserves the right to choose the best schools available, whether charter, private, public or religious. This is a Matthews: 25 moment," Turner said, with a tone similar to that of an articulate and talented baptist preacher.
Lewis, a Black Democrat who served on Cleveland City Council for more than two decades until her death in 2011 at the age of 82 and went from welfare recipient to one of city council's most outspoken and respected lawmakers, broke political ranks to help lobby the U.S. Supreme Court for school vouchers, or now about $34 hundred each annually of pubic funds for some five thousand K-8 Cleveland kids to go to private schools. She believed that private schools were an out for poor Black children in Cleveland's Hough neighborhood trapped by poverty in a failing school district, and she had Republican support, and Akron millionaire David Brennan, who owns and operates voucher schools through his company, White Hat Management.
The Cleveland Teachers Union, the Ohio Education Association, Democrats aside from Lewis, community activists, the NAACP, and Black elected officials such as the late U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, opposed the vouchers as unconstitutional, and called them a bandaid approach to enhancing educational outcomes for minority and other poor children that drains public schools of resources while data show that students do not perform better academically overall.
The teachers unions, led by the Ohio Education Association, a suburban teachers union venue, with the help of the AFLCIO, which is the arm of the Cleveland Teachers Union, fought it in court, all the way up to the historical U.S. Supreme Court loss to Lewis, Brennan, the Republicans, and the Cleveland parents and children that championed Lewis' cause .
But in its landmark decision in Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris that upheld the Cleveland School Voucher Program as passing constitutional muster, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that because the monies go to the parents and not the students, vouchers for private and parochial schools for low-income Cleveland children do not violate the separation of church and state clause of the First Amendment, something scholars like President Obama, a Harvard law school graduate and constitutional attorney, at one time questioned as insincere.
Obama told Cleveland Urban News.Com Editor Kathy Wray Coleman during a one-on-one interview published as a cover story in the Call and Post Newspaper during his run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008 that the U.S. Supreme Court was wrong, and that school vouchers remain unconstitutional.
Since that time, while unions support charter schools, which are public schools operated independently with pubic funds, but continue to denounce the use of public funds for private and religious voucher schools, some Black politicians like Patmon, and Turner, one of two Black state senators representing the Cleveland area and a former Cleveland Ward 1 councilwoman who teaches history and Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, are straying.
Other Blacks that back vouchers agree with Patmon and Turner, that a right to a quality education is a constitutional right to equal access to both a public and private efficient education, and they say further that charter schools and ultimately school vouchers give parents more autonomy, and provide a vehicle for Blacks to run their own schools without stringent demands by predominantly White teachers unions designed to minimize parental involvement in majority Black urban school districts.
"There is a split among some African-Americans on school vouchers," said Belinda Prinz, communications director for Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (D-11), a Warrensville Hts. Democrat, "I can tell you that the congresswoman believes that something needs to be done to improve public education, but we have not discussed her position on school vouchers."
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson did not return phone calls seeking his position on school vouchers.
Larry Bresler, a Cleveland community activist who leads Organize Ohio and the Northeast Ohio Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, said that school vouchers are bad news.
"They should not be out front in support of school vouchers because they take away from improving Cleveland's public schools, which is where their interest should lie," said Bresler. "Vouchers serve a few parochial schools and voucher students cannot attend elite private schools."
Cleveland schools, by virtue of a Republican initiated state law pushed by then Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White, the city's first Black mayor, are controlled by Jackson as the city's mayor, its second Black one.
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