The Ohio legislature appointed Samuel Lewis as Ohio Superintendent of Common Schools in 1838. His chief purpose as superintendent was to help the Ohio legislature establish standards that teachers and public school districts needed to meet to insure that students received a quality education. He also played an important role in determining how Ohio should fund its public schools.
Upon accepting this position, Lewis traveled across Ohio, researching the standards and the quality of schools already in existence. He visited approximately three hundred schools in more than forty counties. Lewis discovered intense animosity from Ohio residents regarding a one and one-half mill property tax currently used to finance schools. He also realized that Ohio residents originally came from all across the Eastern United States. People from the Northeast had very different views of the necessity of education in comparison to those people from the Southeast. Different religious groups also objected to a state-mandated educational curriculum. Considering these geographical and religious differences in existence within the state, Lewis questioned whether a public school system with state standards was even feasible.
In 1838, Lewis issued a report on Ohio's schools and included potential solutions to the problems that educators faced. At this point in time, more than eight thousand school districts operated in Ohio, educating approximately 490,000 students. The legislature currently allotted 65,000 dollars in funds to education yearly, less than fourteen cents per student. Lewis also noted that three thousand school districts did not have school buildings. To meet the needs of Ohio students, Lewis concluded that five thousand additional teachers were necessary. These teachers, Lewis speculated, would cost an additional 200,000 dollars per year. The superintendent concluded that new taxes were necessary to finance education. He proposed taxes on alcohol especially, arguing, if men will drink, the money paid by the drinking man will principally go to educate his children. The legislature failed to act on Lewis's recommendations during his tenure as superintendent.
In 1839, Lewis resigned as Superintendent of Common Schools due to health reasons. He remained in politics, however, running for governor of Ohio in 1846 on an abolitionist platform. He received less than one percent of the votes cast in this election.