Sarah Fowler, a 23-year-old homeschool graduate and farm girl from Rock Creek, Ohio, beat an education law attorney and a chemist to win a seat on the Ohio State Board of Education. “Neither of them was willing to represent the entire field of academic options in Ohio,” Fowler said in explaining why she chose to add her name to the ballot just two days before the filing deadline and 92 days before the election. Few expected her to do well, let alone win, and yet Fowler won by a landslide, receiving 60 percent of the vote and even defeating the teacher’s union-endorsed candidate by a wide margin.
To reach potential voters, Fowler used her skills in communication, sales, marketing, and graphic design which she had developed as proprietor of her own small business and while working at her parents’ seed distribution company. In addition to creating a campaign website and Facebook page, Sarah and her crew (about a half-dozen friends and family) handed out nearly 60,000 copies of campaign literature at county fairs, festivals, and candidate forums across northeast Ohio. “I personally went to over 80 events in the 92 days I was in the race,” said Fowler. “I had volunteers who went to dozens more.” Sarah traveled 5,000 miles and spent about $6,000 on her campaign.
The first homeschool graduate to be elected to the Ohio State Board of Education, Fowler was officially sworn into office by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Conner on December 26, 2012 at Park Elementary School Auditorium in Chardon, Ohio. She will serve the remaining two years of a four-year term vacated by Bryan Williams due to redistricting. The 19-member Ohio State Board of Education reviews candidates for state superintendent, recommends policy reforms to the legislature, and sets administrative policy regulations. Every five years, the board reviews the state’s homeschool laws—a review that is next scheduled to come up this summer.
“Most people don’t realize the state board of education also affects homeschoolers, and sets the policies for home school regulations,” Sarah said. “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. I am the only candidate in Ohio that has the asset of being homeschooled.” Sarah certainly brings unique qualifications to the discussions of school choice and parental involvement.
When asked “What makes you the best candidate?” Sarah answered, “I believe parents have the God-given right and responsibility to give direction to the education of their children. I am passionate about protecting our constitutional rights and would stand against bureaucratic regulation. I desire to preserve educational freedom for my future children and grandchildren and would bring conviction, passion, energy and enthusiasm to this important position.” She based her campaign on five main themes:
1.) Parental involvement and parental rights. “I am concerned about government infringement on parental rights. Parents have the God-given right and responsibility to direct their children’s education. I desire to protect their right to choose whatever educational opportunity they deem best for their children. I desire to preserve educational freedom for future generations.”
2.) Local control of schools. “Bureaucratic control over education is not conducive to caring, effective instruction for our children… Parents and teachers have a greater ability than unconnected politicians to determine the needs of their particular children or students and address them appropriately.”
3.) Curriculum that teaches accurate, contextual history including who historical figures were, as well as why they believed or acted as they did. Fowler is especially concerned that American history in most Ohio public schools starts at the Civil War, omitting lessons on the people and documents that founded the United States (i.e. the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers). “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?”
4.) Standardized testing. “I agree with teachers and parents who have expressed concern regarding the effectiveness of standardized tests…The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is ineffective; it doesn’t allow for individual differences.”
5.) Replacing property tax funding of education with a broad-based system. “I believe unconstitutional property tax funding must be replaced with a fair, broad-based system that will not continue placing financial hardships on seniors, farmers and land owners.”
Fowler is the oldest of seven children, all of whom have been or are being homeschooled by their parents, Kevin and Laura. Sarah’s parents began teaching her from the day she was born and she continues to learn from them. Homeschooling gave Sarah the freedom to learn about the things that really interested her and study them in depth – including subjects such as alternate medicine, food, literature, and graphic design.
Sarah has tutored some of her siblings in basic math and computer skills. She has also taught food preservation techniques such as canning and freezing to small classes of children, teenagers, and adults. Fowler received her homeschool high school diploma in 2007. While she did not go to college, for 13 years the young woman operated her own boutique agribusiness, “Sarah’s Eggs,” before selling it in 2011 due to the rising costs of commodities that go into producing free-range eggs.
In 2010 and 2011, Sarah coordinated Samaritan’s Purse “Operation Christmas Child” gift wrapping/sending parties at her church. She served as a poll worker for several years and has been active in petition drives such as the Ohio Marriage Amendment (2004); People’s Constitution Coalition of Ohio’s State Sovereignty Amendment (2010); the Ohio Healthcare Freedom Amendment (2011); and the Ohio Personhood Amendment (2012).
In the past two months, Fowler has been researching and learning all she can about issues facing the school board. She plans to be just as prepared as the board members who hold master’s and doctorates. “It does not intimidate me being around people with degrees. I know they spent a lot of time in college, and a lot of money,” said Fowler who likes to learn through experiences, reading and being around smart people.
Nancy McArthur, Chardon City Councilwoman, wrote: “Sarah is a breath of fresh air and a very hard worker. During the course of our campaigns, I got to know her and her hard-working family. She will serve the district well. We need more young people like Sarah who are intelligent, Constitutionally-principled, grounded, and critical thinkers who are willing to challenge the status quo and try new things. I look forward to her representing us in Columbus! Congrats to her and all her supporters for a job well done. Now the real work begins.”