Legislators seek to tie up loose ends resulting from recovered state funds

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) –  For years State Senator Joe Schiavoni has been trying to get legislation passed that holds online charter schools accountable.

He isn’t the only one; House District 37 Representative Kristina Roegner has been doing the same.

In recent years, several state lawmakers have begun pushing for reforms and the efforts resulted in the passage of House Bill 2 during the 131st General Assembly.

During that legislative session, Rep. Roegner introduced HB 594 on September 6, 2016.

It was crafted to sure up where money recovered by the state as a result of an audit went.

The bill itself went nowhere, however, and died as the session came to a close.

Undeterred, Roegner re-introduced the same exact bill in the 132nd General Assembly as HB 87.

Unbeknownst to her and her staff; her previous bill had caught the eye of someone else.

As the budget began to take shape in the Senate, Schiavoni tried to introduce an amendment to it.

The amendment did not pass, so his staff began the process of turning it into a bill he ended up introducing recently.

Little did he know, the text of that amendment and subsequent bill were originally someone elses.

When I began looking into Schiavoni’s SB 175, I was told it was similar to Roegner’s HB 87.

Looking at them side by side, the description of similar seemed understated. They are identical.

Legislators in the minority party have complained that the majority party will take their ideas and pass them off as their own, getting the credit.

Was this an example of that?

I started digging; because they were identical, one of the bills origins would surely precede the other.

I quickly found that Roegner’s office could track the exact text of her current bill to HB 594.

Schiavoni’s office took only slightly longer to track down the history of the text in SB 175.

That’s because Schiavoni has a new Legislative Assistant, to replace one who left earlier this year.

As it turns out, that former legislative assistant admitted to lifting the text for Schiavoni’s amendment, and subsequently SB 175, directly from Roegner’s bill.

Neither Roegner’s office nor Schiavoni’s office seemed to be aware it had happened.

No one was really looking at the text of the other’s bill, and why would they? Neither has gone far enough to warrant the other chamber’s attention.

Roegner released a statement Tuesday in light of the revelation her legislation was plagiarized.

“Shortly after the General Assembly passed House Bill 2, Ohio’s landmark charter school reform bill, a local school board member brought to my attention that, if there is a finding for recovery at a charter school, the money was typically either returned to the state’s general fund or there was a lack of clarity as to what to do with the funds. I believe that if funds are determined by an official audit to be misplaced within the charter school, then they should be returned to the local school district and not held by the state.

I initially drafted this legislation several years ago and have now reintroduced it once again in House Bill 87, which has received two hearings. I am thankful for its bipartisan support and that, with the introduction of Senator Schiavoni’s bill, the issue will continue to receive the attention it deserves.”

It is not uncommon for legislators to share their bills across chambers, usually within the same party; and on occasion across the aisle to achieve bi-partisan sponsorship; however in many of those cases some form of acknowledgement is given to the bills origin out of courtesy.

The Legislative Service Commission writes all of the bills for uniformity and proper terminology.

When a legislator’s staff comes to it with a request for a bill, it gives them exactly what they ask for.

There is strict confidentiality between the LSC and legislator on every request.

As for Roegner’s and Schiavoni’s bills, since they are identical they will run into the same challenges.

Schiavoni says the bill is designed to create uniformity when money is recovered as a result of any audit that uncovers overpayments to online charter schools.

“If there’s an audit and it shows that you were overpaid, you’ve got to send the money back to the school’s where the kids came from,” said Schiavoni.

Chad Aldis is an expert in charter school policy. He says the bills still need work.

“It’s really a tough argument when you start looking at where repayment of funds goes to,” said Aldis.

The problem is when a child was already enrolled and is not a transfer student for the year the school is overpaid.

“We have to remember that the traditional public school also did not educate that particular student either,” said Aldis.

Schiavoni agreed, and is open to making changes to his bill.

“I am okay with the idea of sending it back to the state if you can’t locate what home school they’re from, but i don’t want it to just be dumped into a pot never to be seen again, like lottery money,” said Schiavoni. “Let’s use it and target it for something that makes a difference in young people’s lives.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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