Public Education Matters

Decisions made in Columbus have an enormous impact on what happens in our classrooms every day. That's why it's so important to elect state leaders who understand the issues facing our public schools. On this episode, we hear from three educators-turned-OEA-member-recommended-candidates who fully understand those issues about how their classroom experience will guide their work in the next General Assembly.

Show Notes

Educators on the Ballot - Season 3, Episode 6
Decisions made in Columbus have an enormous impact on what happens in our classrooms every day. That's why it's so important to elect state leaders who understand the issues facing our public schools. On this episode, we hear from three educators-turned-OEA-member-recommended-candidates who fully understand those issues about how their classroom experience will guide their work in the next General Assembly.
MORE | OEA Members can learn more about the OEA Member-recommended candidates on the ballot in their community by visiting You can also learn more about the OEA Fund and its screening and endorsement process here.

SUBSCRIBE | Click here to subscribe to Education Matters on Apple Podcasts or click here to subscribe on Google podcasts so you don't miss a thing. And don't forget you can listen to all of the previous episodes anytime on your favorite podcast platform, or by clicking here.
Featured Education Matters guests: 
  • Sophia Rodriguez, D-Ohio House District 84 candidate
    • Sophia Rodriguez for State Representative (
    • Sophia Rodriguez is a high school Spanish teacher in Coldwater School and co-manager of her family restaurant of 41 years in Celina. She has served on the Mercer County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Ohio Education Association Board of Directors, National Education Association Board of Directors, President of the Western Ohio Education Association, President of the Coldwater Teachers’ Organization, Chair of the Ohio Education Association Hispanic Caucus, President of Celina City Council, and as an educational adjunct at the Wright State University Lake Campus. 
  • Sean Brennan, D-Ohio House District 14 candidate
    • Sean Brennan has been a middle and high school teacher in Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools for nearly three decades. He has served on Parma City Council since 2004, first as Ward 2 Councilman, then as President, beginning in 2011. Brennan's other leadership roles include serving as the Parma Public Housing Authority Board President (2011-present), City of Parma Scholarship Foundation Founder and Board Member, Parma Charitable Fund Founder and Board Member, and Big Creek Connects Advisory Board Member. Brennan, who is member of the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Education Association as well as an honorary member of the Parma Education Association, was an Ohio Teacher of the Year nominee, a Northeast Ohio Education Association (NEOEA) Positive Image Award winner, and was named the 2022 Cleveland American Middle Eastern Organization (C.A.M.E.O.) Teacher of the Year. Brennan has finished 110 marathons and multiple other races, including the Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, and New York Marathons.
  • Rep. Joe Miller, D-Ohio House District 53 candidate
    • Currently represents Ohio House District 56
    • State Representative Joe Miller is a proud resident of Lorain County. Before entering the General Assembly, Joe Miller worked in both the public and private sectors. After a short time teaching and coaching in Texas, he returned to Ohio and joined a design build firm and became an Associate Director of Planning. It was this and time spent as a general manager in a print production office that gave him valuable insight into the challenges that face businesses here in Ohio.
      September 11th inspired Joe to return to the classroom where he has taught courses at both the high school and college level. In addition to being an active USGTF Professional Golf Instructor and OHSAA Basketball Official, he enjoys volunteering in his community and church. Joe and his wife Kelly, who is a fellow educator, currently reside in Amherst with their two sons, Joseph and Jordan and bulldog, Heisman. Joe Miller is a passionate advocate for quality education, jobs for hardworking Ohioans, opportunities for green energy expansion, and assistance to our veterans.

Connect with OEA:
About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May, 2020, after a ten-year career as a television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
This episode was recorded on September 29, October 4, and October 7, 2022.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Transcribed by
Intro 0:07
This is education matters brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Barb Armour 0:15
Everything that happens in Columbus effects everything in our schools.

Katie Olmsted 0:20
That's Brunswick City Schools bus driver, Barb Armour talking on a recent episode of this podcast about why she helps the OEA Fund screen and recommend candidates. On this episode of Education Matters, we're hearing from some of those candidates who have been recommended by Ohio's educators. And not just that, all of these candidates have spent their careers in Ohio classrooms, too. I'm Katie Olmsted, part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association. And over the last few weeks, I've had some great conversations with three educators turned OEA member recommended candidates who are running for seats in Ohio's General Assembly. Sean Brennan is running for Ohio House District 14 in the Parma area in Northeast Ohio. Joe Miller is running for re election to the Ohio House. He has been representing District 56. But after some map changes due to redistricting, he's now running to represent Ohio House District 53 and northern Lorain County, and Sophia Rodriguez is running for Ohio House District 84, which covers parts of Mercer, Darke and Auglaize counties. All of them have earned the support of OEA members because of where they stand on public education issues. All of them have a crucial understanding of those issues, because they are educators. So up first, on this episode, we ask Sofia Rodriguez about how her experience as a high school Spanish teacher in Celina and her vast experience in leadership roles with OEA, NEA, her local association and more will shape her work in the General Assembly.

Sophia Rodriguez, thank you so much for sitting down with us today. You have such an impressive resume, a high school teacher, co manager of your family restaurant, a former salida city council president. That's not to mention serving as president of the Western Ohio Education Association, president of the coldwater teachers organization, chair of the Ohio Education Association, Hispanic Caucus, and those terms on the OEA board of directors and National Education Association Board of Directors. That's a list. Why set your sights on the general assembly now?

Sophia Rodriguez 2:42
Those leadership positions that I have have really set me up to better understand policymaking and activism within public education realm that I can take to the next level on the legislative level for Ohio.

Katie Olmsted 2:59
What are those big public education issues that you would tackle on that next level? When you get to the General Assembly?

Sophia Rodriguez 3:06
Oh, I think obviously, its funding. How do you look at a state that is over 94 95% Generally, the kids are in public education. And you're not fun that I mean, you're talking about we have for $2.6 billion, sitting in a coffer doing nothing, when it could be benefiting the youth of our of our state, along with college stem, you know, all those extra, you know, things that for to educate our population so that our population stays in Ohio, creates an Ohio beat they they can be innovative in Ohio, you know, Ohio, we put a man on the moon and we flew a plane, we can do that again. But we have to give them the opportunity through education and funding to be able to do that.

Katie Olmsted 3:51
And of course, heading into this next General Assembly, one of the big issues that's facing the lawmakers is whether to fully fund the fair school funding plan. That's the first constitutional funding system in Ohio.

Sophia Rodriguez 4:07
I never understood that. Why should that be a question? Why should you? The answer should always be yes. It should always be yes. Not a question of do we do it or not? Yes, let's do it. And how do we do it?

Katie Olmsted 4:18
So how do you do it? How I mean, I'm sure from your experience on city council and all of these other leadership positions, you have faced your fair amount of opposition and people who don't necessarily agree with you. How do you work to achieve what we need to achieve for our schools?

Sophia Rodriguez 4:35
Well, it's about allocating funds. So but in order to do that, you have to bring everybody to the table. You have to bring them to the table. So we work collectively to determine what is in the best interest for our state. And I think the bottom line is always education. I mean, whatever field you're going in, and it doesn't even have to when I say field I'm not talking about collegiate. I'm talking about whether you're a farmer, whether you're a small business, whatever you you're doing, you need to be educated. If you're not educated to understand how the system works, how policies affect you, you're not going to be successful. And we need success here in Ohio.

Katie Olmsted 5:11
And no one understands the opportunities that education brings more than you do, or the challenges of educating the people of our state. How does your experience as an educator shape what you plan to do in Columbus?

Sophia Rodriguez 5:26
Well, this is what I know as an educator, when and because of my experience within city council, is that when citizens are educated, they are less likely to be involved in crime, they're less likely to be involved in drugs, and they're more likely to hold a job or full time job, to not be unemployed, to open businesses. And so my education is just not just about being an educator, it is all the influences that I've learned through through all the other experiences with local city politics, with national policymaking, you know, lobbying on behalf of public education, both nationally and statewide. So in order for those things to work, again, I say we have to bring everybody to the table, we have to say, We want a better system of success here in Ohio. We know education is the key, and how do we make that work? What are your suggestions? Let's look at this together. It's not just one person. And let's talk about bringing the experts into the field. I mean, why we have we have legislators who have never stepped foot in a classroom, trying to make policy for us never been in there. My experience in the classroom, in small business in local politics is like a treasure trove for me to bring that experience on the state level.

Katie Olmsted 6:49
And we would be very lucky to have you on the state level advocating for our students. Sophia Rodriguez. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Sophia Rodriguez 6:57
You're welcome. De nada

Katie Olmsted 7:01
When it comes to having life experiences influence a life of public service, Sophia Rodriguez is not alone. Sean Brennan, the OEA member recommended candidate for Ohio House District 14 has served on Parma City Council since 2004, and has been Parma city council president since 2011. He's also been a teacher in Brecksville Broadview heights schools for 28 years. And he has some advice for other educators considering running for office. Take a listen.

Sean Brennan, candidate for Ohio House District 14, thank you so much for sitting down with us today. We are talking, of course to educators who are on the ballot running for government. That's your bread and butter. You've been teaching government and American history and US history and American legal systems for 30 years now. How did you transition from your love of teaching about government you actually wanting to be in government?

Sean Brennan 8:05
Wow, that's that's a great question. And it is an honor to serve. And it's honor to be a teacher running for state office, you know, back in 2003, I saw my community going in the wrong direction. And, you know, I've always taught my students that, you know, it's one thing to sit back and complain about things. But you know, if you're living in a democracy, you really have a responsibility to become more of an actively engaged citizen. And so I decided to run for city council. And so I knocked on every door that ward three times, some of them for, and I went from a name that nobody really knew, besides my family and a few friends to people tell me, Sean, leave me alone, you got my vote. And my message to my colleagues, my fellow teachers and educators around the state is is that, you know, we really need to know our power. teachers and other educators are really leaders in their community. And sometimes we don't really view ourselves as that. And we really have so much to offer. You know, we know so much about kids so much about family, so much about society, and so much about challenges that need to be addressed. And we just have so much to offer, that I really hope that more teachers will start to run for city councils and for mayors and state legislature and other offices. And you know, I I look back on my 19 years on city council almost in my almost 30 years and as an educator, that's almost 50 years of public service. I've dedicated my entire life to public service just like probably everybody learned listening to this podcast has and that's a lot of experience that you can take to your city hall or to your state house and do right by the people that you care about in your community.

Katie Olmsted 9:55
And just about everyone listening to this podcast presumably also care about collective bargaining and about their local association. You have been a member of the Brecksville Broadview heights Education Association, also an honorary member of the Parma Education Association through your work on city council. And when you go to your campaign website, and you look up where you stand on the issues, one of the things it says right off the bat is, quote, It all begins with education.

Sean Brennan 10:25
Right? So I'll give you a little bit of my history. And if I go too long, you know, let me know. But you know, growing up, my mom was a single mother, my dad left when I was a little boy, and my mom lost the house. You know, we weren't nearly homeless. In fact, we were on public assistance. And I think there are a lot of folks, you know, down in Columbus that had never been through that type of struggle and challenge. But we again know as educators, we have kids in our classroom and families in our communities, that that go through hurdles like that. And so that informs why I'm running in part for the statehouse, you know, my mom worked in retail, where she did not have the protections of a collective bargaining agreement. And so I know what it's like to be paid low wages, and to not have health care, and to not have retirement benefits. My mom died from cancer, several years back. And, you know, not only did the cancer take a toll on her, but after she passed, I found $40,000 in medical bills that she simply couldn't afford. And I And note that no doubt, the stress and anxiety that no doubt caused her, probably shortened her life as well. So I am a huge believer in a collective bargaining agreement, our teachers, we need to continue to ensure that we have those collective bargaining rights, you can bet I'm gonna go to the statehouse to fight to protect what we have and further our rights. And, you know, it concerns me very much that there are forces in our state, who are trying to encourage our members to quit their union, you know, and Mike, and to anyone who even considers that I just want you to think about, you know, who do you think might be behind that type of thing? And what is their angle? And why is it that they want their and tried to encourage you to leave your union. And I think at the end of the day, you know, teachers being among the most critical and creative thinkers in our communities, I think we'll draw the conclusion that that's not a good idea.

Katie Olmsted 12:32
Now, you mentioned educators are creative, and critical thinkers, which is clearly important. Even more importantly, they're creating a next generation of critical thinkers, but that ability to do their jobs and have those age appropriate conversations, instilling those skills in our kids, that's been under attack by certain politicians who are trying to distract us from the very real issues facing our schools.

Sean Brennan 12:59
Right. Yeah. So you know, I call a lot of what's going on in Columbus, the politics of division and diversion. You know, there are not all there are some, I think, pragmatist and moderates in Columbus on both sides of the aisle. And I'm looking forward to working with folks on both sides of the aisle. You know, as a teacher, you learn to work with all personalities, particularly when you teach in high school. In my experience on city council, I've worked with Democrats, Republicans and independents, to, to transform Parma into one of the safest cities of our size in the nation. So you know, my hope is to go down to Columbus and again, work with folks on both sides of the aisle to to benefit all of the folks of the of the 14th District and all the folks in the state of Ohio, I am very concerned about some of the laws that no doubt are meant to attack our public schools and prevent us from teaching through history and to take away from our ability to create a safe environment for all of our students, regardless of their background. And I will go to go to Columbus and I will fight for our profession. And I'll fight for all of our students and fight for all of our families.

Katie Olmsted 14:19
Unfortunately, a lot of your colleagues have very serious concerns right now about school safety. As you know, that is one of the top issues for a lot of people heading into this election. And as you know, the General Assembly earlier this year passed House Bill 99, which just guts the training requirements for school personnel to carry weapons in our schools. Now, I know that you are a lifelong gun owner, but you're also a strong advocate for gun safety, having three gun lock giveaway programs and things like that going on. What are your thoughts on House Bill? 99 And what would you tell your fellow at It caters about what can be done in Columbus to make them feel safer.

Sean Brennan 15:06
You know, I explained it to residents this way when I'm going door to door, arming teachers is not only not a bandaid on the problem, it makes it worse. You know, there, I believe there are many other much better solutions to the problem than arming teachers personal. And I think most reasonable people agree with me on that.

Katie Olmsted 15:28
And I cannot wait to have you in Columbus, putting those reasonable solutions forward. Sean Brennan, thank you so much.

In talking about House Bill 99 there, Sean Brennan touched on one of many major issues facing Ohio schools. And it seems like just about every day lawmakers in Columbus proposed new legislation for our schools, good or bad. Fortunately, our public schools have had a true ally in Columbus with Joe Miller, the current state rep for Ohio House District 56. He's running to represent Ohio House District 53 In the next general assembly. Before going to work in the State House, Representative Miller worked in Firelands local schools and taught college courses. His wife and brother are still in the classroom every day. So we asked him about some of the legislation impacting Ohio's public school educators and students.

Representative Joe Miller, thank you for taking the time to talk about your record and your plans for the future. One thing that I know we are so appreciative of is your championing the fair school funding plan. We know that has been such an uphill battle to get to the point where it was adopted in the last state budget, so it's funded through this biennium. But that's just one of many things you have done for Ohio's public schools. Can you talk to me a little bit about some of the other legislation that you are really proud of, from your previous term?

Joe Miller 17:02
Well, Katie, thanks for having me. Yes, the fair school funding Act was the biggest piece that we need to push through course, it's the new model for how we can fund equitably education, public education across the state. If we get actually carry through with that and fund it properly, it will reduce property taxes and make sure that we can educate the whole child, there's a lot of needs, especially coming out of the pandemic that I think the fair school funding model will help to, to assist with. But one of the things that got it to got us to this point and has caused just as much damage not only is poorly funded schools, but the idea that we should, as a state take over schools that are considered low performing. And I'm gonna verbally put that in quotes because we were basing that on a school report card that was inaccurate and unfair. It really was just grading out school districts by their zip code, which meant by how much wealth they had created, and how few social detriments the students were facing. So I've went ahead and with another co sponsor, both bipartisan and both General Assembly's, we have worked on this ending of and dissolving the academic stress commission in the 133rd, GA that was with Don Jones, former teacher as much like myself, and then in this GA, represented petroleum out of Youngstown, who also has a school district in academic distress, as do I and Representative Kent Smith up in East Cleveland. So the idea was let's remove this model. It's a bad model, it was a failed model. It really was put in place just to show to the to the world that public school education is not working. And we should move to for profit charter schools.

Katie Olmsted 18:57
Which is a lie. It's a lie that it's not working.

Joe Miller 18:59
It's Yeah, exactly. And so but we also asked for an improvement plan to be put in place by schools that were struggling and having more challenges than others and what we can do to help assist them in the end, the fair school funding model was supposed to assist with that they kind of worked hand in hand together. Another thing that I had always promised when I came down here was to improve transparency of government and House Bill 112. I believe I had that with this particular time with representing the poor Hagen, who also has borrowed her school in school district in an academic distress. We were looking to have audits performance audits done of the school districts to show why the model was failed. Both it really not moved because we were able to get a band aid fix, if you will, for these three schools. And that is to kind of lead them on to give them the hope that they can come out of academic stress. If they went ahead and created a plan that's state C superintendent approved, and then met metrics that I still think are very, very difficult to meet, they would be able to remove themselves from economic distress, and be led by a superintendent, the way all schools are constitutionally accredited to be led by a school board that chooses the superintendent. So those were the two, I would say ones that were trying to overcome some of the issues down there. In regards to education, there's many more, one of the more proud things more positive things is we got to, you know, adopt the resolution 128, which honored Kurt Russell, teacher, and Oberlin for not only being Ohio's 2022, Teacher of the Year, but also the nation's Teacher of the Year. So that's a very proud moment there.

Katie Olmsted 20:44
And shameless plug, Kurt Russell is a two time guest on this podcast. So go ahead and go back and listen to his episodes, he has some really great stuff to say, I do want us to hear what you have to say about the future. You're running for re election. And you have a lot of plans for when you go back to Columbus for your next term.

Joe Miller 21:05
Sure, there's, there is a lot to do still do, we had have the last decade or more, I would say almost two decades, we have put Ohio in a race to the bottom for our public school system. And that's, that's something that we need to reverse and set on course in a more positive way. We know currently that teachers are just under this current environment, they're they're overworked, they're underpaid. And probably the biggest thing for us as teachers, is when you're under appreciated, the joy of teaching is no longer there. And this is driving many of those teachers out of the profession and less they're actually going to college to become teachers. So my goal is to get down there work on the finance committee work in primary secondary Higher Ed Committee and make it seamless make it so that we have fully funded schools that are seamless from cradle all the way until they step out and become their own individual go off to into a profession and do their thing, and then still provide access for retraining and workforce development if needed. So it's a it's a broader scope than just high school or, you know, elementary school. But I think that's something that we really need to change the direction. And that is the race to the bottom should be a race to the top. And the only way you're going to get to the top is by investing in the children, the teachers and the communities that support these children's efforts to become lifelong learners. And kids love learning, whatever that may be, whether they're learning a trade, or they're learning quantum physics, it's extremely important that we support all the different options and opportunities that you have as you grow academically and emotionally and physically throughout your young years.

Katie Olmsted 22:53
And it is extremely important that educators and Ohio support educators like you trying to get seats in the statehouse to really influence the legislation that makes such a difference. Joe Miller, OEA recommended candidate for House District 53, Thank you.

Joe Miller 23:11
You're welcome. Thanks, Katie for having me. And good luck everybody.

Katie Olmsted 23:15
Joe Miller, Sean Brennan and Sophia Rodriguez are just a few of the candidates on the ballot this year who have been recommended by OEA members. OEA members who'd like to learn more about the recommended candidates in their legislative districts can go to, and we'll all learn more about the OEA member recommended candidates for Ohio State Supreme Court next week here on education matters. Until next time, stay well.