A teachers strike in Ohio has transformed into a microcosm of how the state’s two Senate candidates view public education, with Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan walking the picket lines and Republican J.D. Vance blasting the union for harming children.
The Columbus Education Association called a strike on Sunday, just days before the school year was set to begin, citing lack of a "fair contract" as well as "functional heating and air-conditioning" in a small number of classrooms. Teachers are also demanding an 8 percent annual salary hike over several years, while the city is offering a 3 percent hike.
Students, whose school year began Wednesday, will now be forced to attend class online. Sports and other extracurriculars are canceled until the strike ends.
Ryan and Vance have taken contrasting positions on the strike, in a familiar debate reminiscent of when schools shut down across the country in 2020 and 2021 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic due to teacher union demands. Myriad studies show those shutdowns caused tremendous damage to children's development and contributed to a dramatic increase in child suicide attempts.
But union support is critical for Ryan’s chances of winning a Senate seat in a state that voted for former president Donald Trump by 8 points twice. That dynamic however, clashes with Ryan’s campaign’s message that he’s a centrist who hopes to win over Republican voters, many of whom saw school closures as ineffective and an abuse of power by government bureaucrats.
"Our kids have lost so much ground," Ryan said Tuesday on Twitter. "They need to get back in the classroom. But they can't learn in extreme temps, leaky buildings or packed classes."
Ryan is a top recipient of donations from teachers' unions, according to campaign finance disclosure documents. Ryan’s education plan for his failed 2020 presidential bid, which included billions of dollars of more funding for things such as "social-emotional learning programs" and "housing assistance," earned the support of controversial teachers' union president Randi Weingarten.
Ryan’s campaign did not answer an inquiry from the Washington Free Beacon.
The Columbus Education Association told the Free Beacon that it welcomes Ryan’s attendance at the strike.
"The Columbus Education Association is grateful for Rep. Tim Ryan’s support as our teachers continue to fight for the safe, properly maintained, fully resourced schools Columbus students deserve," a spokeswoman for the union said.
Ryan’s campaign also shared a fundraiser for the striking teachers. Those funds would help teachers stay off the job by providing lost income.
Meanwhile, Vance accused Ryan of fighting for "special interests that fund his campaign."
"Tim Ryan and the union bosses he serves are deliberately misleading teachers, parents and students," Vance said in a statement. "We know far too well from the past two years that ‘online learning’ is horrible for students, families, and communities."
A study from Ohio State University found that COVID-19 education restrictions resulted in students there "missing one half to one full year’s worth of learning in math … and between one-third and one-half of a year’s worth of learning in English language arts." The effects of school shutdowns were particularly profound in "disadvantaged students," researchers said.
Ryan will face Vance in November. Recent polling shows Vance pulling ahead in the match up. A RealClearPolitics average of polls in the last two months has Vance leading by nearly 4 points.