We continue to be bombarded by campaign mailings, and it seems like we are getting more brochures, fliers, and other literature than in any prior election.
One piece of literature in particular caught my eye. Labeled “Ohio Education Voter Guide” with a cover featuring a smiling teacher with an apple on her desk, it purports to be a “nonpartisan” guide to the positions of Ted Strickland and John Kasich, the competing candidates for Governor, on education issues. It doesn’t really look much like the kind of gray, content-heavy, nonpartisan guides we typically see from the likes of the League of Women Voters, however.
Inside the brochure, you find pictures of a smiling Ted Strickland and a frowning John Kasich, whose face is largely in shade. In a chart below their photos, the candidates’ “positions” are compared in only three categories: “school improvement,” “school funding,” and “college affordability.” The descriptions of Governor Strickland’s positions are phrased in pretty glowing terms. For “school improvement,” for example, the brochure states: “Governor Strickland’s new education reform law invests in teaching and learning in the classroom, greater accountability, more equal funding for students across the state, and stronger parent, school, and community partnerships.” The description of John Kasich’s position in that same category, in contrast, states: “John Kasich’s education plan would provide vouchers to attend private schools and increase competition between schools” and cites a January 2009 article from the Youngstown Vindicator. In the “college affordability” section, the brochure cites a two-year-old news article reporting on Governor Strickland’s college tuition freeze and compares it, in something of a non sequitur, to Kasich’s 1995 votes against “expanding student loan programs and against tax breaks on college tuition.”
It’s hard to read the brochure without coming to the conclusion that whoever prepared it favors Governor Strickland’s position. The brochure is put out by “Communities for Quality Education” and lists a Washington, D.C. address. The organization’s website FAQ page doesn’t tell us anything about how they are funded, other than to say that the group is “building our fundraising base with the help of individuals and organizations that share our goals and our priorities.” Although it is unclear whether teachers’ unions provide funding for Communities for Quality Education, the organization evidently works with the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers. The Communities for Quality Education website states that it, and those two entities, were all part of a coalition supporting the “Speak Out for Ohio Schools” initiative. Communities for Quality Education also is listed on the OEA website as a “national education advocacy group” that works with the National Education Association “and others inside and outside the education community who share the common goal of building better public schools for every child.” The Ohio Secretary of State’s website also shows that the Communities for Quality Education made contributions in 2007 to the “NEA Fund for Children and Public Education Non-Federal Itemized Account-Ohio.”
I don’t mind organizations and unions advocating for causes they believe in, and I certainly think it is fair to compare the positions on education of the Ohio gubernatorial candidates. My only question is: when is a political publication that is sent to voters fairly and properly labeled as “nonpartisan”?