COLUMBUS (TDB) -- The Ohio Federation of Teachers -- an AFL-CIO union that represents public school classroom instructors in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo -- is attempting to gin up some pre-primary controversy. The union sent Illinois Sen. Barack Obama a letter demanding to know "whether or not you support using taxpayer dollars to allow students to attend private schools." The Feb. 19 letter was prompted by an off-hand comment Obama made earlier this month during an editorial board meeting at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a comment the teachers interpret as indicating support for the use of vouchers. Over the years, Obama has been a foe of voucher programs that direct state money to cover tuition payments at private and parochial schools. Ohio has a statewide voucher program that started in Cleveland and survived a Supreme Court challenge. Republican lawmakers have supported vouchers, and Democrats have tried to kill the program -- so far without success.
Education Week has pumped the story on its blog, and has a video link to the editorial board meeting. Meanwhile, Obama has sent Education Week a letter explaining he opposes school vouchers. During his 2004 campaign for the Senate, Obama said vouchers "would blow up the public school system" by siphoning off funds to private schools. The Ohio Federation of Teachers is affiliated with the American Federation to Teachers, which has endorsed Hillary Clinton. Sue Taylor, who headed the Cincinnati union before taking over as chief of the OFT, signed the letter, along with Cleveland's David Quolke and Toledo's Kris Schwartzkopf, both political directors of their city units. The letter to Obama says:
"Our question is simple: Which of these is your position on vouchers? Will you, like President Bush, propose a federally funded voucher program? Or will you stand firm against using taxpayers' money to support private schools?"