Public Education Matters

On August 8, 2023, voters in Ohio will have a choice: Accept an amendment that destroys majority rule in Ohio and shreds the sacred principle of "one person, one vote" in our state or vote no on that measure to protect our freedom to make decisions that affect our lives and our futures by preserving the constitutional amendment ballot initiative rules that have worked well in our state for over a century. The choice is clear, but it's going to take every Ohioan working together to defeat this issue in the upcoming special election. One Person One Vote campaign communication director Dennis Willard joins this episode to explain why voting no in August is so important to the future of public education in our state. 

LEARN MORE | Click here for information about the citizen-driven, grassroots, non-partisan coalition representing millions of Ohio voters that has come together to protect the sacred principle of one person one vote, and preserve majority rule in Ohio.

GET INVOLVED | Click here to learn more about how you can join OEA in the One Person One Vote campaign to help stop this amendment at the ballot box in August. 

Featured Education Matters guest: 
  • Dennis Willard, One Person One Vote campaign communications director
    • Dennis Willard is president of Precision New Media, which he formed after covering state policy and government as a statehouse reporter in Columbus for 23 years, the last 15 as bureau chief for the Akron Beacon Journal. As a reporter, Dennis wrote about working and middle class families, children, women, minorities and others who needed a voice in the media. This passion helped him win state and national reporting awards on issues ranging from “The American Dream: Hanging By A Thread,” to the vast inequities in Ohio’s school funding system. Dennis brings that same passion to Precision New Media. 
    • Dennis was born and raised in Youngstown, and joined the U.S. Navy after high school where he worked as a Navy Journalist for the American Forces Radio and Television Service during tours in Greece and Sicily. Upon his return, Dennis earned a B.A. in political science and an M.A. in journalism from The Ohio State University before taking his first statehouse reporting job as a stringer for his hometown newspaper, The Vindicator. 

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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 an Emmy Award winning 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 May 15, 2023.

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

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:16
Thanks for joining us for this edition of Education Matters, your source for insightful conversations about the big issues facing public education in Ohio. I'm Katie Olmsted, and I'm part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association, and you better believe that I will be at the polls on August 8 to vote no on issue one. That's right, just months after the state legislature got rid of August elections because they are too expensive and there was always ridiculously low turnout, some Ohio politicians with millions of dollars in backing from an out-of-state billionaire approved a measure to reinstate an August special election, just so they can ram through a change that would shred Ohio's Constitution as we know it, and end the basic fundamentals of democracy in our state, that sacred principle of one person, one vote. You see, these lawmakers want to make it so that we, the people, would need a 60% supermajority to pass future constitutional amendments through ballot initiatives when they, the lawmakers, fail to listen to us and deliver on what the majority of Ohioans want in the statehouse. And they want to make it much, much harder to get initiatives on the ballot in the first place, like nearly impossible. And they are counting on low turnout in this $20 million August election to permanently change the constitution and take away our rights to determine the future of our state. But we are not going to stand for that. Just moments after the Ohio House passed Senate Joint Resolution 2, the Vote No in August coalition launched its campaign to protect that principle of one person, one vote. This is one of the largest, broadest, deepest, most diverse grassroots citizen driven nonpartisan coalitions ever formed in Ohio. And OEA is proud to be part of this work. And we are just getting started. Dennis Willard is communications director for the One Person One Vote campaign. And he joins us now to explain why voting no in August is so important for the future of education in our state.

Katie Olmsted 2:41
Dennis Willard, thank you so much for joining us to help us all get up to speed on what is going on. What is going on? What is happening?

Dennis Willard 2:51
Well, I think this is an attack on voters rights, fundamental voters rights. For 111 years, Katie, Ohioans have had the ability to go directly to the ballot about issues that matter most of them. And what is happening is that some extreme politicians, some lobbyists, some out-of-state interests, special interests, want to consolidate power against voters. They, they don't like it when voters take matters into their own hands. So what they're doing is they're raising, they want to put before the voters an idea of raising the threshold to pass a constitutional amendment to 60% plus one, instead of the simple majority of 50 plus one that we have relished as a fundamental right for 111 years in Ohio. So this is doing away with majority rule, and putting the power into the hands of a small number of people, instead of the majority of people that that and how it's worked for for years,

Katie Olmsted 3:50
Getting rid of majority rule gets us to minority rule. 40% of Ohioans could make decisions for all of Ohioans.

Dennis Willard 3:58

Katie Olmsted 3:59
And that's not how democracy works.

Dennis Willard 4:01
No. In fact it's worse than that. Because right now, it's really burdensome to collect signatures and go to the ballot. It's costly, it's time consuming. You have to put a lot of people on the street, collecting signatures.

Katie Olmsted 4:16
Can you remind me real quick what the current threshold is to get something on the ballot?

Dennis Willard 4:20
It's 10% of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election for valid signatures. And that right now has over 400,000 valid signatures, and you have to collect them right now in a percentage of them in one half of Ohio's 88 counties or 44 counties. But this makes it even harder, because it says that you have to collect signatures in all 88 counties, and you have to meet a minimum amount of signatures in all 88 counties. So effectively, you could hit 87 of 88 counties and fall short in one county and you would disqualify your entire effort. So they're making it nearly impossible to amend the Constitution through voters. And that means that they consolidate all the power in their hands.

Katie Olmsted 5:11
And in Ohio, amending the Constitution by voters is really our only recourse as voters when the lawmakers don't listen to us in the statehouse. We send them to the statehouse to do our business, to follow the will of the people, but too often we see that they're doing the will of their special interests or their own selves. Why is it so important that we maintain the ability to change the constitution?

Dennis Willard 5:35
Well, let's just talk about how this affects educators, teachers, people in the education world, because I think that the education world should be united against this. For example, they're trying to do things like take the independent state board of education that was created through a constitutional amendment and they're trying to basically take all the power away from that and consolidate that in the governor's office. They're trying to take the Ohio Department of Education that has always been separate from the governor's cabinet and make it part of the governor's cabinet. So the governor, and the legislature will have tremendous power over education in this state against the wishes of the people that amended the Constitution in the 50s to give that education arm independence. So that's one thing. Again, if we can't go to the ballot, to fight that, because we disagree with it, we we think this is against the will of the people, and they make it impossible to do that, or nearly impossible, then then they're consolidating all their power and hurting education. But let's take some other issues that matter like vouchers and school funding. Again, if the voters want to do something because the this the state is expanding vouchers at a rate that is undermining our common schools, our public education for all students, then we should have the right to go directly to the voters and say, Are the legislators out of touch with Ohio? Or are they doing what Ohio wants? That's really what a constitutional amendment allows us to do. And, and if they take that power away, then we can no longer challenge them when we think they are completely out of touch with Ohio. And I think most Ohioans do not support a universal voucher plan. They don't support taking all the power away from an independent state board of education or usurping the power of an independent department of education. Those are things we should be allowed to go to the voters and ask them that question. But they're trying to make that nearly impossible with that 60% threshold.

Katie Olmsted 7:48
Well, and let's talk about the school funding side of this. It's been 26 years since the first DeRolph decision declared our school funding system unconstitutional. And the Fair School Funding Plan is moving us forward in a better direction so that it's not going to be so overly reliant on local property taxes, and it is going to be more equitable across the board. But we're not there yet. And there is nothing holding the lawmakers' feet to the fire about getting that piece of legislation all the way across the finish line, finishing funding the Fair School Funding Plan. And if they fail to do so, a constitutional amendment might be our only way to get that done. This would take that power away from the people, is that right?

Dennis Willard 8:31
Right. And again, making it nearly impossible, if not impossible to do this. They are purporting that what they're doing is they're taking special interests out of changing our Constitution. That's not true. The August election is a special election for special interests: them. They're saying that they think that they are kind of protecting the Constitution. Again, the opposite is true. They are putting a lock on the Constitution, they are locking the voters out of having any say in changing their own constitution. This is our Ohio constitution, we should have the ability to change it, which we have for 111 years. We've had the ability to go directly to voters and say, Do you want this change or not? And voters have been very wise in their decisions. They've passed about one out of four constitutional amendments. But let me tell you some of the things that the voters have done with this: We have affordable housing; we have built schools, helped to build 1200 new school buildings in the state so that it, public school buildings, so that educators can teach their students in clean classrooms, up-to-date modern classrooms; we've we've built bike trails; waterways, taking care of waterways; and we have put money into roads and construction projects that have created jobs and allowed communities to prosper economically. These are all things that we've done through constitutional amendments, because the legislature has ignored what the people want, and the people have taken matters into their own hands. This is why what they want to do is on the issues that matter most to us, they want to take our ability away to make decisions on those. They want to have all the power, the lobbyists, the politicians, and the special interest want all the power against the people, we won't stand for it.

Dennis Willard 9:24
Well, and that's the thing they're setting us up to be - they're protecting the Constitution from special interests, but they are really throwing away our Constitution. They are shredding our constitution over one specific issue. And granted, you know, Ohio educators, our opinions are all over the map when it comes to the reproductive rights issue that may likely be on the November ballot. And the lawmakers have been very open about they're doing this to stop that from happening. But all of the things that we are throwing out about our democracy just to stop that one issue. It's an affront on our freedom as Ohioans.

Dennis Willard 10:34
You're absolutely right. This is an attack on our basic freedoms and rights. And you know, in 2011, the legislature passed Senate Bill 5, which took away collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public employees in Ohio, including all teachers. And then we went directly to the voters because that was against the will of the voters. Now, we collected a record 1.3 million signatures or four signatures for every public employee in Ohio. So that meant it wasn't just public employees signing that for their own interests. That was four people for every public employee. On election night in 2011 2.1 million voters vetoed Senate Bill 5, basically said, we're taking this law off the books. And that meant that seven voters for every public employee said no to Senate Bill 5. Now we should have that power, we should have that direct democracy power. And, and lawmakers didn't like it when we took their law and we erased it. And we and we put collective bargaining rights back into Ohio law. They don't like that they don't like when the people stand up against them. Right now, they are trying to quash the people's voice, the people's ability to go directly to voters and ask them, do you agree with the legislature? Or do you agree with us? And that is a basic question. We should have that power that right. And that's what we're fighting for by saying vote no. in August for a special election for special interests.

Katie Olmsted 12:53
And they're acting like playground bullies. They, they don't like the way the game is going. So they're changing the rules in the middle.

Dennis Willard 13:00

Katie Olmsted 13:01
That's not right. That's what children do. We're supposed to be adults here.

Speaker 3 13:04
Right. And a democracy is our you know, when you talk about this is an attack on the basic fundamental ideas behind our democracy. A democracy is based on having rules that everybody agrees to, and playing by those rules. And what they're trying right now is to rig that game by changing the rules so that they win. That's what that's what this 60% threshold is. As you said before, a small number of voters can stop what the majority of people want. That gives power to a small number of people. And those people happen to be the lawmakers, the extreme lawmakers in the legislature who want all the power.

Katie Olmsted 13:40
Who are backed by an out of state billionaire who has been fueling the campaign to get this on the ballot in the first place, after those same lawmakers got rid of the August election because it costs way too much money and so few people turn out

Speaker 3 13:54
That's a subject of our lawsuit. We are challenging the election in August, because just six months ago, the legislature passed a law that said that elections in August are a waste of taxpayer dollars, because the voter turnout is so low. So what do they do? They defy their own law, and they put a special election on in August without changing that law they passed in August. So we're going to the Supreme Court and asking the Supreme Court to rule this illegal. We think it's illegal for them to put this on the ballot in August.

Katie Olmsted 14:30
Unfortunately, we can't really count on the Supreme Court to do the right thing on this one, and especially given the timeline with early voting starting -

Dennis Willard 14:39
I think we're less than 60 days away from early voting starting.

Katie Olmsted 14:42
So we can't let our foot off the gas on this one. We can't count on the courts. What can Ohioans do, Ohioans who want to protect our freedoms, who want to protect our democracy? What can we do right now to make sure that come August 9th, we still Have our democracy in play?

Speaker 3 15:01
That's a great question. I think one of the things they can do is go to our website, for information, sign up for our emails. But really like what we need to do because voter turnout is so low, this is really going to be a campaign about getting people what I would call engaged, enraged, registered and turning out to vote. And so I would ask everybody who's watching this podcast, to commit to talking to as many friends, family members, coworkers, people in their community as they possibly can, and tell them how critical this issue is. You know, this is, this is not a drill. Our fundamental rights are on the line right now, and people have to turn out. The nice thing about it is they can vote early, they can vote early starting in July. So if you have vacation plans for the first or second week of August, then make sure that you get your early vote in. So you do have a chance here, it's not just a one day thing. We're going to have several weeks here where people can engage, but get registered, vote and get everyone you know, to vote no in August.

Katie Olmsted 16:14
Having those conversations with the people around me already, one of the pushbacks that I get is, 'Well, changing the constitution is a really big deal. We shouldn't be doing this on a whim.' So how do we how do we explain this issue in a way that people understand that that's just how it is in Ohio, we don't have an option outside of the Constitution to change our laws?

Dennis Willard 16:37
Well, it's a great question. Let me say something about this there. The proponents of this idea continue to compare it to the US Constitution. The US Constitution and state constitutions, like in Ohio, are very different. The the federal government made it very difficult to change the US Constitution because it is the guiding document for the entire 50 states. But they also gave tremendous power to the states. And that's why states' constitutions are actually very flexible. And but just more importantly, is this is not an effort to make it a little bit harder to change the Ohio constitution. This makes it nearly impossible. This, this takes the power completely away. Power that we've had for 111 years, for 111 years that has worked and worked well. As I mentioned, all the positive things that have come through going directly to the voters and asking for constitutional amendments. Our Constitution is a living, breathing document that is very flexible to the will and the needs of the voters in this state. And we should make sure that we have that direct democracy path going forward. This would take that completely away, concentrate all the power in the hands of extreme politicians, lobbyists and special interests, like a billionaire from out of state, as you mentioned. Why should a billionaire out-of-state have more power over our Constitution than the voters of Ohio should have? It's just wrong. And so vote no in August.

Katie Olmsted 18:15
And why should 40% of Ohioans have a bigger say in our future than 50% of Ohioans plus one vote. One person, one vote is a basic fundamental tenet of how our society works and how our democracy works.

Dennis Willard 18:35
Right. And keep in mind, it's not easy to amend the Ohio constitution. It's not like Hey, I got an idea. I'm just gonna go to the voters. It's It's time consuming. It's it takes a thousands of people coming together on a common idea. And even then, if it's a bad idea, voters have been smart. Woters have been have chosen correctly in the past, they and this is another way of the extreme politician saying, 'you know what, voter? we're smarter than you. We know more than you. Let us take care of everything. Give us all the power we'll take care of you.' The fact is, often the voters say, 'You know what, I don't agree with you. I don't agree with you. And I want to have a right to exercise my disagreement other than coming to you, when you won't even listen to me.' The legislature often turns a deaf ear to the will of the people and people should have an alternative to that which is changing the constitution so that the issues that matter most to us we can we can have an impact on those issues.

Katie Olmsted 19:42
Issues like the future of public education in our state. Educators, this is so important that we are all getting engaged in this one because you have the power. You have the power to turn out in August and make the difference here and preserve our democracy and preserve our freedoms as we know them.

Dennis Willard 20:03
Yeah, in fact, I would say I would say that, you know, the homework assignment for all educators in Ohio should be vote in August, vote no in August. I mean, it. It really is - and Katie, I've been around the state house for almost three decades. And this is the most critical issue I've seen in 30 years in Ohio. It's that important. That's why they're going to do this, trying to do this. They're trying to do this in August to sneak this issue past the voter, you know, and and I say, let's, let's rise up against them with send them a resounding message. Like, I don't want to just beat this. I want to beat this hard with 60% or more, 65% Send them a clear message: Don't ever bring this bad idea back around again. Because - and I want to embarrass them for putting this really bad idea before voters so I know that I'm going to be working I know you are too. We need to get everybody involved to vote no in August.

Katie Olmsted 21:03
Dennis Willard, thank you so much. I am looking forward to this work because it is so important.

Dennis Willard 21:09
Thank you for having me today.

Katie Olmsted 21:12
If we are going to beat this unfair, unpopular, undemocratic, unnecessary measure in the August election, we need you. Yes, you. We can't afford to have anyone sit on the sidelines and choose not to vote when there is so much on the line in this election. And if you want to join the One Person One Vote campaign with OEA and your fellow educators, you can find the link for more information about how to get involved in the show notes for this episode. New episodes of Education Matters drop every Thursday. Until next time, stay well.

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