COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio lawmakers have resurrected an effort to strip the State Board of Education of most of its powers and hand the reins instead to the governor’s office.
After a Republican-backed bill transferring control over Ohio’s education policy to a cabinet-level position within the governor’s office failed in last year’s General Assembly, state legislators held the 2,156-page proposal’s first hearing of 2023 on Tuesday.
Legislators added a handful of amendments to Senate Bill 1 since it was initially introduced as Senate Bill 178 last year, including a provision to exempt qualifying homeschooled students from mandatory school attendance and a measure to set requirements for non-chartered, nonpublic schools, according to the bill’s original sponsor Sen. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin). A newly-added provision would also allow the General Assembly to strike down rules adopted by DEW.
“The bill’s focus is still the same: to improve academic and workforce skills to drive better accountability and outcomes for our kids’ education and career readiness,” Reineke said.
Like many of his predecessors, Gov. Mike DeWine has signaled his support for the state board’s overhaul. “Virtually every governor for 40 or 50 years have wanted to have more control in regard” to education policy, DeWine told reporters in November.
As it currently stands, the 19-member, majority-elected State Board of Education is tasked with guiding the Ohio Department of Education’s implementation of learning standards, graduation requirements, school performance and teacher licensing. But GOP lawmakers – who advanced from the floor in a 22-7 vote in November, less than a month after its first public hearing – argued that years of political infighting among board members, dwindling state report cards and a lack of readying students for the workforce indicate it’s high time to transfer those roles elsewhere.
“This should be the No. 1 issue in this state – getting these kids caught up – and I do not see the board doing that,” Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware) said in November.
Senate Bill 1, the equivalent of last year’s Senate Bill 178, would rename the Ohio Department of Education as the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, or DEW, according to bill sponsor Sen. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin).
Though the state board would remain intact, its authorities would be diminished to administering educator licenses, directing disciplinary processes and overseeing teacher and school counselor evaluation systems.
The superintendent of public instruction would instead act as an advisor to DEW’s director, whose department would oversee two divisions: one for primary and secondary education and a second for workforce development.
Democratic lawmakers, however, launched a staunch opposition against SB 1’s proposed changes, which they described as a fast-tracked “power grab” that allotted little time for stakeholder review.
Transitioning from a superintendent chosen by the majority-elected state board to an appointed official tucked inside “a layer of bureaucracy in the cabinet,” newly elected board member and former Toledo-area Rep. Teresa Fedor said, could threaten the public’s level of say when it comes to education in Ohio.
“Is this really the silver bullet that you need,” Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) asked those testifying in support of the bill on Nov. 29, “Or is there something else that can be done?”
If lawmakers enact SB 1, Ohio will join the majority of U.S. states in designating the governor with the ability to appoint, so long as the legislature’s Senate approves, members of the state’s board of education, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education.