Ohio Senate passes bill to neutralize state board of education

Credit: OhioStatehouse.org

Credit: OhioStatehouse.org

A bill to revamp the state’s education system passed the Ohio Senate on Wednesday and is headed for consideration in the House during the last two weeks of the lame-duck legislative session.

Substitute Senate Bill 178, sponsored by state Sen. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, would take policy authority away from the Ohio board of education and superintendent, subordinating them to a new cabinet-level departmental director appointed by the governor. It would also split the department in two: creating a division of primary and secondary education, and a division of career-technical education.

The state board would continue to exist, as required by the state constitution, but would be relegated to oversight of teacher licenses, staff conduct and school territory transfers. The state superintendent would serve as an adviser to the director.

It passed out of Senate committee Tuesday on its fourth hearing, and cleared the full Senate the next day.

Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, made a rare speech from the Senate floor to endorse the bill, saying it will change basic education policy “for decades to come.” He accused unnamed Ohio Department of Education staff of “malevolence” and refusal to communicate with legislators.

State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, said such a seismic change shouldn’t be rushed through in the lame-duck session. It should get much more public input, he said.

Thomas said it’s not a coincidence that the Republican majority wants to take power away from the school board immediately after Democrats picked up three of the board’s 11 elected seats in November. The remaining eight members are appointed by the governor.

State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, said the current state board — on which he serves as an ex officio member — is “completely and totally dysfunctional.”

“They argue and squabble over parliamentary procedure for hours on end,” he said.

In committee hearings, representatives of several business groups praised the bill as giving long-deserved attention to career and technical education. Others, whether speaking as “interested parties” or opponents, worried about concentrating power in an unelected department head.

Sen. Louis Blessing, R-Colerain Twp., amended the bill in committee to say the new departmental structure must be in place by June 30, in time to prepare for the subsequent school year.

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