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Higher Ed Not Debt

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March 4th was a move towards affordable college for all Ohioans. Members  from the Ohio Student Association, Ohio Education Association, Ohio Federation of Teachers, American Association of University Professors, and the Ohio Part-Time Faculty Association, came together to take a stance on the student debt crisis by urging the expansion of the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, OCOG. The organizations banded together in creating the Ohio Higher Education Coalition (OHEC).

The OCOG provides grant money to Ohio residents who need financial aid to attend college. In 2009, the budget was cut from $352 million to $171 million. Not only are less people receiving the grant, but they also made it so students had to use their Federal Pell Grant first, before using OCOG. What this does is force students to use the Pell Grant on tuition, rather than books or living expenses, since the Pell Grant can be used for other expenses and OCOG can only be used for tuition. This action made most community college students ineligible for OCOG. OSA and OHEC pressured Ohio legislators to expand OCOG by $40 million, and to make community college students eligible.

Students and teachers came together and shared personal testimonies, and other factual testaments. Kiala Riel (OSA), shared her personal experience, “My family didn’t have extra funds to save for my education. Before I transferred to OSU, I was working 40 hours a week and taking a full schedule of community college classes at night.” And John McNay (President, Ohio Conference of the AAUP), spoke “There is no excuse for an academic system in Ohio that punishes students with that kind of crippling financial burden.” Teachers and students, people from all areas of Ohio united for student debt reform.

1782024_607268132695763_1500148518_n.jpgI shared my story of how my mother worked two jobs, went to college, all while raising a child, me. I also conveyed how we struggled in poverty. Then I went in to discuss how I am currently a college student.  Fall 2014 will be my first year, in 5 years, receiving any financial aid assistance. For 4 years, I have had to work and go to school at the same time, and it is a fight. Everyone should have the opportunity to get a higher education and better their lives. College itself is hard, we shouldn’t have to struggle financially and be punished for seeking knowledge.

After the press release, we all meet up at the OEA building, where we went into a further discussion on how to continue this movement towards affordable college. All the organizations sat down for some pizza, and deep discussion. We talked about being creative, but also connecting teachers and students as a team to create this change at the local level.

The morning had a certain type of splendor and accomplishment to it. After all, we were at the Statehouse, speaking, with media presence, about a critical issue. And we were truly doing something. I think I can speak for everyone, when I say it was a remarkable morning. Many positives came out of that day: media releases from four different media networks, State Senator Schiavoni was inspired to help us get started on the next step, and we took the first of many steps towards reform.

It was truly an amazing day. Thanks to everyone who planned it, to all those who spoke, to everyone who showed up for support. Some incredible first steps. Let us continue on our path for affordable college in Ohio!

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OSA Fellowship Retreat

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This past weekend, the Ohio Student Association 2014 Fellows attended their second of four weekend retreats, this time in Cleveland. Under the expert guidance of the Wildfire team, we continued to build our OSA community, talk about issues of social injustice, and assemble the tools to become community organizers in our own rights. We also started to put our new skills into action planning two campaigns, one centered on the student debt crisis and the cost of higher education, and the other addressing the school-to-prison pipeline.

The weekend kicked off on Friday with a recap of the last retreat, agreements for the space, dinner, and generally being excited to be back together. Saturday we were up bright and early, ready to get to learning. We learned about the “spectrum of allies” and discussed strategies for shifting the spectrum, in other words, how we might be able to bring neutral people and passive allies into the action, and try to shift the opposition to at least passively opposing us. We then broke out into regional/campaign-specific groups and got started on planning our campaigns, mapping out our specific spectrum of allies and trying to pinpoint the best segment of the spectrum to focus our efforts on. We started to map out our campaign peak chart, peaks being actions and key events, and to fill in the necessary steps ascending to those peaks.

 

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OSA Fellowship for Community Change

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The Ohio Student Association has welcomed 55 young leaders from 9 cities around Ohio to the first Fellowship for Community Change.  OSA fellows come from very different places but all have one thing in common: a desire to fight for justice in communities across Ohio. This semester-long program focuses on teaching young change-makers the art and science of community organizing and civic engagement.

Throughout the semester, participants actively engaging in the movement for a better future for Ohio’s youth. Fellows are working on one of two campaigns:

  1. Raising awareness of the impact that crippling student loan debt has on all Ohioans and to fight for more need based financial aid by expanding the Ohio College Opportunity Grant. 
  2. Fighting against the "School to Prison Pipeline" by helping to pass a bill in the Ohio legislature that would remove the mandate for zero tolerance disciplinary policies in Ohio schools.

The fellows will be traveling around the state for trainings, retreats, and actions. Look out for whats next as these fellows' feet hit the ground!

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Two Weeks in Ohio

 

The spring has been beautiful in Ohio.  The groundhog may have lied to us on February 2nd (I don’t understand why we even trust him), and we have only had about a week of good weather this spring.  But our state has been beautiful for another reason.  All across the Ohio, young people have been organizing, building power, and fighting for justice.  Here at the Ohio Student Association, our staff: James Hayes, Joel Solow, Meredith Krueger, Molly Shack and myself have gotten the opportunity to work with inspiring students and communities across the state.  The result has been an unforgettable two weeks that I feel compelled to share.

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April 10th.

In Columbus,  a coalition of student groups at Ohio State organized a screening of the film “The House I Live In”.  More than 125 students, community members and faith leaders filled the seats and spilled into the aisles to view the powerful film, and start a conversation about the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, and the school to prison pipeline. The screening was followed by an illuminating panel discussion and a call to take action by attending our April 17th town hall about public education in Columbus.

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April 11th.

Myself and four students, Megan, Lauren, Ilhan and Lainie, told our stories, and brought the voices of thousands of other students around the state with us to the Ohio House Finance Committee. We testified on HB-59, the budget bill, advocating for increased funding to K-12 and Higher-Ed, and seeking support for 3 budget amendments that would forgive student debt, bring jobs to Ohio, and increase financial aid.  We also gathered 1881 online petition signatures from around the state in support of the amendments. We fielded questions from legislators and showed them what happens when students speak for themselves.   

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April 11th.

If our testimony in the morning was #Finesse, then our direct action that afternoon was a #PowerMove.  We worked with leaders from Caring Across Generations, Ohio Prophetic Voices, and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative to give testimony and demand for the inclusion of Medicaid expansion in the biennium budget. After testimony was given, a dozen leaders seated directly in front of the committee fell to the ground in a symbolic “Die-In” to represent the thousands of Ohioans that will die within the next three years without Medicaid expansion.   The legislators were shocked.

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April 11th.

Later that evening we traveled to Wilberforce University for a team-building training.  This year, Wilberforce students have been doing inspiring work, in an attempt to clean up corruption, restore pride in the student body, and save their school -- the nation’s oldest private HBCU -- from closing.  We helped incoming student government leaders develop their purpose for next year, and begin to build a strong leadership team.

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Ongoing.

Around the state, students have had in-district meetings with their representatives to build a relationship, to push these elected officials to fund education equitably from kindergarten through college, and to urge them to adopt a series of budget amendments that forgive student debt, bring jobs to Ohio, and increase need-based financial aid. 

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April 16th.

Last year, Ohio University raised tuition despite strong resistance from students.  They proceeded to use student tuition dollars to hand out bonuses to university administrators.  The Ohio University Student Union formed as a result, and this year, they’ve been working furiously to prevent another proposed tuition hike.  On April 16th, more than 150 students gathered for a rally and march, telling their stories and making it clear to the administration that students cannot afford another tuition hike. 

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April 17th.

From late March onward, the Columbus community has been organizing to maintain control of their schools.  Big business is attempting a corporate takeover of the school district, seeking to eliminate the democratically elected school board.  Throughout the city, community members, parents, teachers and students have hosted house meetings, educating each other on the issues, and expanding community involvement in the process.  All of these gatherings led to a public town hall on April 17th.  More than 100 community members, 5 members of the Columbus Education Commission, and more than half of the school board attended the meeting, making it clear that the Columbus community will not tolerate a takeover of its schools.  The No School Takeover Coalition forced powerful corporate interests to abandon their plan A to takeover the schools through the Columbus Education Commission, forcing them to move to plan B, and winning city hall to our side.  I think that qualifies as a #PowerMove.   

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April 17th.

The coalition that organized Re-envisioning the Female Body at the University of Cincinnati organized a training on April 13th with the Ohio Advocates Youth Leadership Council and Planned Parenthood of Ohio, prepping students for a lobby day the following week.  On April 17th, advocates from around the state attended a reproductive rights press conference and lobby day at the statehouse, and later that evening 37 students from the Re-envision coalition called their legislators urging them to remove several budget amendments attacking reproductive rights.

 April 17th.

Meanwhile, at Kent State University, students led a demonstration protesting tuition hikes and the university’s enrollment cap fee, followed by an open discussion about student debt, student organizing and movement building. 

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April 19th.

Four brave young women from the Ohio University Student Union were arrested for a sit-in at a Board of Trustees meeting to protest the tuition hike and demand that administrators and coaches making over $100,000 receive no bonuses until tuition is frozen.  Tuesday’s rally and Friday’s civil disobedience ignited OU’s campus, forcing the administration to respond.  

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April 23rd.

At the University of Akron, students organized a rally of more than 100 students to protest changes to the Office of Multicultural Development, which provides academic services and cultural programs. Students are concerned that a restructuring plan will undermine efforts to help retain black students and other minorities; only 10% of Akron’s full-time black students graduate within six years, compared to 43% of white students.  With half of state funding for higher education tied to graduation rates, students, who have not been engaged in the restructuring process, are concerned that the plan may redirect resources away from underrepresented students. 

It is a beautiful spring in Ohio. But to focus only on the flowers is to ignore the planting of the seeds, the watering of the plants, the powerful rays of the sun, and the slow process of germination and growth. While the last 2 weeks in Ohio were full of action and excitement, they are simply the flowers that have bloomed from the perpetual process of building and connecting communities of care and communities of power. Students around the state have been planning strategically, building powerful relationships and organizing for months. I am very proud of the work of the Ohio Student Association -- of the young people around the state of Ohio who are building power and fighting for justice, but what I am most proud of is the process. If we dedicate ourselves to the process of transforming ourselves and transforming our communities we cannot lose.

“The struggle is eternal. The tribe increase.  Somebody else carries on.” -Ella Baker

 

 

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48 Hours of Organizing in Central Ohio

As always, The Ohio Student Association had a busy week, here is a peek of what 48 hours of organizing in Central Ohio looks like!

City Council:

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The recent fight against a corporate takeover of Columbus City Schools brought OSA leaders to a Columbus City Council meeting. Amber Evans, A CCS graduate, future librarian, and big sister of four students currently in the public schools came and voiced her concerns about the possibility of legislation taking away the community’s ability to democratically elect the school board. The Council refused to comment on whether or not they supported a takeover and the Ohio House put in the legislation the following week.  Click here to like the No School Takeover facebook page!

Documentary Screening and Panel Discussion:

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Organizers had to turn people away from the overflowing theatre for a free screening of The House I Live In – a documentary about the failed “war on drugs” and the havoc it has wreaked on communities across the country. The screening was followed by a panel discussion with community leaders, specialists, and people who have been affected by the war on drugs and the school-to-prison pipeline. Various student organizations sponsored the event including OSA, Band of Brothers, NAACP, College Dems, and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity. Read this blog post about the event! 

Students Give Testimony at House Finance Committee

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OSA organizers Stuart, Meagan, Lauren, Ilhan and Lainie sought support for legislation that will help give Ohio students more opportunities to succeed with less student loan debt and more fully funded schools. Ohio students told their stories, and brought the voices of thousands of other students around the state with them, to the Ohio House Finance Committee. Students ably fielded questions from legislators in their powerful display of what happens when students speak on behalf of themselves in front of their elected officials.  Check out the footage of the testimony here. 

Die-in at the State House

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OSA joined leaders from Caring Across Generations, Ohio Prophetic Voices, and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative at the Ohio Statehouse to give testimony and demand for the inclusion of Medicaid expansion in the biennium budget. After testimony was given, a dozen leaders seated directly in front of the committee fell onto the ground in a symbolic “Die-In” to represent the thousands of Ohioans that will die within the next three years without Medicaid expansion. Click here to watch the video of the action!

Students & Community Members Phone Bank

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Leaders from Students United for Public Education (SUPE) spent the evening phone banking for the Town Hall on the Future of Public Schools. The Ohio Student Association has joined together with a labor and community coalition to stand up for public education and fight a hostile takeover of Columbus City Schools. Click here to like the No School Takeover facebook page and email molly@ohorganizing.org to get involved!

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Is the war on drugs or on our communities?


On April 10, over 125 students, community members, and faith leaders turned out to watch “The House I Live In.” We filled the seats and spilled into the aisles to start a conversation about the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, and the school to prison pipeline that leads to action.

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The film was full of deep analysis of the drug war, and the political and economic factors, which continue to serve as fuel for what David Simon, creator of The Wire, calls a, “Holocaust in slow motion.”

I had already seen the movie, so I, and some of the other organizers, waited outside of the theater for the most part, so others could take our place. But when I did poke my head inside I could read the concern and confusion on people’s faces.

Film3.jpgEach audible gasp signaled a new revelation. When Michelle Alexander reported that there are more black men incarcerated today than were enslaved in 1850, you could feel the outrage in the room.

By the end of the film and the excellent conversation that followed, everyone left knowing why we need to do something about the drug war, and some even left knowing what they want to do about it. But the question left on most people’s mind was: How?

How do we take this huge problem of structural racism as manifested in the systems of mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline organize a response that (1) changes people’s lives for the better, and (2) affects change at a large enough scale to make a significant difference?

Another question was: When?

When do we begin to take responsibility as individuals, and as a community, to build the power required to reverse the decades of bad policies, which have yielded such destruction and devastation?

film5.jpgThe answers to both questions are simple, though the work will be hard. We will only build the power to challenge the school to prison pipeline and the drug war by continuing to organize people in opposition to these systems of exploitation and control, and sustaining the conversation we began on Wednesday with injections of action and learning. Nights like Wednesday need to become commonplace. And the energy in those rooms has to translate into committed, strategic action.

And we must do so now. There are three key events coming up, which will advance the conversation into action and power building.

Film_4.jpgOn Wednesday, April 17 there will be a public town hall about public education in Columbus. Because as Dr. Patty said during the panel conversation, “if we are going to do something about the cradle to prison pipeline, we have to do something about the cradle.”

On May 2, there will be a direct action about the school to prison pipeline outside of the Dept. of Education and City Hall, on the corner of Front St. and High St downtown.

And on May 11, there will be a power and strategy training to help us develop targets and goals to organize around. Location and time TBA. 

 

 

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Town Hall on the Future of Columbus City Schools


town_hall_2.jpgAnyone who has been in or around Columbus City Schools knows that major changes are needed so that we can provide the best education possible for all children in Columbus. Mayor Coleman has taken on this crucial issue, and formed the Columbus Education Commission to improve education in our city. The Commission was formed with $500k in corporate dollars, and $500 of our public dollars. There are 25 appointed members, some of whom have proposed "solutions" that could have devastating results for our neighborhood schools and our children. 

At the last commission meeting, changes to the way our schools are run were proposed, including a school board takeover. A school takeover means that we as parents, grandparents, teachers, concerned citizens, and our community would lose the ability to vote to impact our children’s education. Unelected and unaccountable people would be running our school board and controlling the funds that taxpayers put towards education.

town_hall_1.jpgWhile there are real problems in our schools that need real solutions, corporations are trying to take advantage and profit off of these issues. They want to control our schools because it means control over the Columbus City Schools’ $1.4 billion budget. Similar efforts in other cities like Chicago have led to massive school closings, strikes, lay offs, and has severely interrupted children's education. 

Fixing our schools takes the entire community working together for the betterment of our children. When powerful people play politics with our schools, it is our children who pay the price. 

Now is the time to tell the commission not to give up on the Columbus community. The Ohio Student Association and the No School Takeover community coalition will host a public Town Hall to discuss these issues and show that we are more than capable of holding our elected school board members accountable for the children of Columbus.

Click here to join the facebook event page!

 

 

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Got Debt? Ohio Ranked 7th Highest In Student Debt

justabill.pngWith your help, we have the opportunity to bring jobs to Ohio and win debt relief for Ohio college graduates!

Click here to sign the petition urging the Ohio legislature to amend H.B. 59 to forgive student loan debt and create jobs for students who graduate from Ohio colleges and universities, encouraging the best and brightest to stay in Ohio and build our economy!

On average, Ohio’s college graduates leave school with almost $29,000 in student loan debt. Higher education has always been considered the great equalizer in our society, but tuition hikes and student debt are closing the window of opportunity for many students, and crippling Ohio’s economy.    

But it doesn’t have to be this way. A proposed amendment to the biennial budget bill, promises to reward the hard work of Ohio’s families with educational and economic opportunity.  And, the budget is expected to pass out of the Ohio House in just 3 weeks -- so the time to act is now!

The Ohio Opportunity Amendment (HC1235) seeks to create a student debt forgiveness program for graduates who remain in Ohio, and a job creation grant program to incentivize companies to hire students from Ohio universities to work in Ohio.

Click here to sign the petition urging the Ohio legislature to amend HB59 to forgive student loan debt and create jobs for students who graduate from Ohio colleges and universities!

Send an important message to our legislators today to keep the best and brightest in Ohio and to create jobs!

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2nd Annual Ohio Youth Congress

From all across Ohio, from Toledo, Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Akron, Kent, Columbus and Athens, student leaders came together for the Second Annual Ohio Youth Congress in Columbus from March 1-3. Our local issues may look different- some of us are fighting for racial justice on our campuses, others are working on gender and sexuality, and others are fighting for a more democratic, transparent, and student-led university. But through the differences in perspective and background, we diligently worked to craft a shared vision of Education Justice, and to build statewide student power. It was powerful, hilarious, exhausting and dope.

I had not attended the first Ohio Youth Congress, and so was especially excited to play a role as a planner, facilitator and trainer, to say nothing of meeting the teams from outside Northeast Ohio, where I work with leaders at Cleveland State, University of Akron and Kent State University.

On the first night of the Congress, Ohio Educators’ Association (OEA) President Patricia Frost-Brooks set the tone with humor and gravity by telling the gathered students a story from her home school district of East Cleveland.

Dressed as Cat in the Hat. With a doll.

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In honor of National Read Across America Day, she had just celebrated the award of a $1,000 gift from a major corporation to a local elementary school. The $1,000 went to filling the previously empty school library with books. But as President Frost-Brooks put it, is it Education Justice that an elementary school, funded by the property taxes of a primarily renter and low-income community, 99.5% Black or African-American, is dependent on the charity of a corporation for basic library books?

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The next day we learned about centuries of struggle around the purpose of education; crafted shared statewide values and a vision for Educational Justice in a heated, passionate, and vital small group breakout; heard from a panel of experts about the policies and budgets that increase the cost of college, weaken public schools and maintain the school to prison pipeline; discovered moral outrage through a skit demonstrating the forces behind the scenes putting those policies in place; and were schooled in the use of power in the service of our values and moral outrage. It was a big day, so we ate a mountain of burritos, and then set to the late-night task of combining all the small groups’ values and visions using flash cards with the words most often used by the group earlier that day.

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It was a beautiful sight to see, a group of students from most of the major schools re-arranging flash cards with values and visions on the window of St. Stephen’s Church, peering into the darkness beyond the window, together.

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On the last day of the Congress we got into the nitty-gritty of campaign and strategy planning and leadership development, coming out with local ‘peak charts’ (detailing the series of tactics reaching towards a campaign goal) and talking with fellow leaders about what leadership styles we want to grow in. The day was cut short, as some campuses had to head back home early.

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But, at the end of the day and weekend, that’s not so surprising. Democracy, building power, transforming ourselves and our communities is always unfinished, imperfect work. While the Congress left some trainings and conversations for later, and there’s more work to be done, I was proud and humbled to have been a part of it, and can’t wait to see the amazing work locally and statewide that comes out of it.

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University of Cincinnati Student Power Summit

small_UC_power_summit.jpgLeaders from various student power hubs at the University of Cincinnati met on the evening of Sunday, February 24 to talk about joining up to work toward educational justice in Ohio.

Some of these student leaders are already working to change the conversation around race, gender, sex and stratification in our community. The group included students who are studying school psychology and special education, students who are involved with electoral organizing and party politics, and students who are organizing a massive feminist demonstration in the next two weeks. One student is heading up a campus-wide campaign to implement Preferred Name Policy, another facilitates the Teaching for Hope and Justice Network, and another leads a group focused on drug policy reform. Recognizing the diverse approach that students have taken so far in trying to build a better future, the students involved in the OSA at UC are connecting these efforts to make them more powerful than they are when they remain isolated.

This meeting sparked a critical conversation about the stake that all of us have in the present and future of the education system, and why it is strategic to operate at the state level when seeking change. Students from Cincinnati will be traveling to Columbus this weekend for the second annual Ohio Youth Congress, to continue the conversation with student leaders from the rest of the state. We will also be meeting on campus in the upcoming weeks to discuss plans for the rest of the school year. 

Want to get involved? Sign up on the Activate your Campus page! 

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