Canton Repository

February 12, 2003

Ohio educators meet with top lawmakers
Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Two Canton educators got a lesson in power politics Tuesday.

Sitting in Rep. Ralph Regula’s Capitol Hill office, they listened as the Bethlehem Township Republican told U.S. Education Secretary Roderick Paige by phone that he would appreciate it if Paige would see the Canton educators and other members of the Ohio 8 Coalition today.

Regula heads a key subcommittee that oversees Paige’s budget.

Paige told Regula that while he was unsure what was on his schedule, he almost certainly would stop by to see the Ohio 8 group, including the two people in Regula’s office.

Canton School Superintendent Dianne Talarico and Sam Dorto, president of the Canton Professional Educators Association, acknowledged they were impressed by the display.

The educators’ hourlong meeting with Regula was a promising start in the coalition’s effort to build relationships with Congress and U.S. education officials.

The alliance, made up of the eight largest urban school districts in Ohio, traveled to the nation’s capital to draw attention to the challenges facing urban districts.

Coalition members said they need more federal money and flexibility to implement No Child Left Behind, the 2001 law that requires improved student performance.

The group met Tuesday with Sen. George Voinovich, R-Cleveland, and Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester. Boehner, another influential lawmaker, is chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, which oversees education legislation.

As coalition members ate lunch, Voinovich told them if they could focus on a single important issue, he would go to bat for them.

That single issue wasn’t determined.

Jim Kohlmoos, a Washington-based consultant to the coalition, said Voinovich’s pledge “was pretty incredible. I think this is a very positive development.”

The group received assurances from Boehner that he would continue to listen to their concerns as he takes a lead in renewing federal education laws, said John Grossman, president of the Columbus Education Association and another member of the coalition.

During the meeting with Regula, the Canton officials divided their time between thanking the congressman for some $6 million in federal grants to the district and describing their frustration with federal mandates.

Talarico pointed out several problems in the No Child Left Behind law, including a provision that allows students to transfer into a high-performing school even if there is no room left in the building.

“You be prepared to testify” before Congress, Regula told Talarico.

Asking as many questions as he answered, Regula, a former teacher, wondered whether Canton pairs experienced “mentors” with new teachers.

“Yes, and we’re actively looking to expand” the program, Dorto said. He added that many young teachers leave the profession in their first few years but mentoring can help retain them.

Noting that Congress would be increasing spending on special education, Regula asked for ideas to ensure that increased spending “gets to children who need it.”

Talarico said attending special education classes “shouldn’t be a life sentence” for students. “I’m not certain that it (special education) is working.”

“I think really when we say learning disabled, it really means the inability to read, therefore acting out behavior,” she said later. “That’s the huge critical piece. They weren’t keeping up with their class in terms of their literacy levels in math and reading. And that’s how they get identified.”