By Victor Skinner
ROCK CREEK, Ohio – After stinging election defeats for the education reform movement in Idaho, Indiana, Michigan and other states, a lot of supporters are left searching for an inspiring story to rejuvenate their spirits.
Meet Sarah Fowler.
The 24-year-old former egg farmer was homeschooled her entire life by her parents in rural northeast Ohio. The humble girl-next-door recognized the state’s education system needed a different kind of leadership, and mounted an amazing last-minute, 92-day campaign for a vacant seat on the state board of education.
Fowler won by a landslide, defeating a union-endorsed candidate by a wide margin. She will join a growing majority on the Ohio State Board of Education committed to the principles of school choice and traditional classroom instruction.
“As far as I know, I would be the first person, in Ohio anyway, to sit on the board … that has been home educated,” Fowler told EAGnews.
“For the most part, I wasn’t on anyone’s radar because they didn’t think I would win,” she said. “I really didn’t expect to win by the margin I did, but I did expect to win.”
Spreading the message of choice
Over the course of her campaign, Fowler and a core group of about a half-dozen friends and family worked to generate a grassroots following of volunteers to help get out a very simple but effective message:
“Parents have the God-given right and responsibility to direct their child’s education,” Fowler said. “And parents should be able to choose the best educational option for their child.”
Fowler put to use the communication skills she learned as proprietor of “Sarah’s Eggs,” a small business she operated for 13 years before selling it in 2011. She also called on the sales, marketing, and graphic design skills she developed working in her current position at her parents’ seed distribution company.
Fowler and her crew created a Facebook page and campaign website, and passed out nearly 60,000 copies of campaign literature at county fairs, festivals, and candidate forums across northeast Ohio. Fowler said she talked to anyone who would listen, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“I did personally get to talk to a lot of people in the district. I believe almost everyone I talked to was … encouraged,” Fowler said. “I personally went to over 80 events in the 92 days I was in the race. I had volunteers who went to dozens more.”
On election night, Fowler received 60 percent of the vote in the 7th District, which includes all or parts of Ashtabula, Trumbull, Geauga, Portage, Lake and Summit counties.
In her home county of Ashtabula, over 67 percent of voters cast their ballots for Fowler. Union candidate James Collum, an Akron attorney, came in second with 26 percent, while Akron chemist John Sans trailed with 14 percent.
“I was the only candidate that was willing to discuss all of the schooling options,” Fowler said. “Both of my opponents were only willing to represent one of the educational options in the state, and we have eight.”
A fresh perspective
Fowler’s motivation for running was simple. She was homeschooled by her parents, Kevin and Laura, and her six younger siblings are following in her footsteps. Every five years the Ohio Board of Education reviews home schooling regulations, and the next round is scheduled for 2013.
“Most people don’t realize the state board of education also affects homeschoolers, and sets the policies for home school regulations,” Fowler said. “My younger siblings are still being educated at home.
“It would be beneficial for the state board of education, when they are reviewing home schooling regulations, to have a person on the board that has actually been home educated.”
Fowler’s main objective “is to keep home school regulations friendly to parents who want to home school,” she said.
While Ohio’s home school laws are fairly lenient already, “it is still a lot tighter on some regulations than other states are.
“That’s my overarching goal,” Fowler said. “Is this helping or hurting the parents we are supposed to be servicing?”
Battling school indoctrination
Fowler said her focus in Columbus, however, won’t be limited to homeschooling issues. She also has a keen interest in countering the liberal bias and indoctrination that has seeped into public school classrooms over the years.
For someone who has never attended a government school, Fowler has a strong grasp on a very big problem few public school parents are aware of.
“Things are taught differently now than they used to be taught,” said Fowler, whose grandparents were special education teachers in public schools. “The history curriculum has been changed and it’s no longer taught accurately. It’s been re-written to suit an agenda.”
American history in most Ohio public schools, for example, starts at the Civil War, omitting lessons on the people and documents that founded the United States of America.
“If we don’t teach how our nation began, and about the people who founded our nation, than how can we expect children to appreciate the sacrifices of the people who fought for our freedom?”
Gay rights, Marxist ideals, and other elements of the left’s political agenda have slowly crept into school lesson plans with the help of teachers unions and their allies, she said, and it’s important to counter that influence to provide students with a proper education.
“I would say the union is definitely promoting that agenda, but it’s not something new. It has been going on for a very long time. I think looking at the history of it, it’s been a really well planned out progression to where we’re at,” Fowler said.
“That’s one of my concerns with the public school system – that things are taught accurately and in the proper context. A lot of people are not aware of a lot of things that are being taught.”
New Ohio Board of Education
The Ohio Board of Education is comprised of 19 board members, with 11 elected to represent their districts and eight at-large members appointed by the governor.
Fowler will serve two-years of a remaining four-year term vacated by Bryan Williams, who was forced to vacate his seat due to reapportionment, but won a seat in another district in November.
Williams also supports school choice and homeschooling, according to Ohioans for Educational Freedom, a political action committee focused on recruiting candidates to the state board that support homeschooling.
Fowler, Williams and Jeff Hardin, another candidate endorsed by Ohioans for Educational Freedom, won election to the state board in November. Three out of seven isn’t bad.
Candidates endorsed by the state’s teachers union, the Ohio Education Association, prevailed in the remaining four school board races for Districts 1, 6, 9, and 11.
“Two years ago, when we started (Ohioans for Educational Freedom), there were very few school choice/ home school advocates on the board,” Mark Stevenson, the PAC’s director, told EAGnews.
In the 2010 election, the PAC helped to propel two pro school choice candidates to the state school board, and the 2012 election brings the number of elected reformers on the board to at least six.
Nearly all of the appointed positions have been or will be filled by Gov. John Kasich – a strong supporter of school choice.
The new board is slated to review candidates for a new state superintendent, the person responsible for setting the tone for education in Ohio.
The large reform majority certainly bodes well for those who believe all available educational options should be a part of the discussion.