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Education advocates slam bill overhauling state Department of Education for quick timeline

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An Ohio Senate committee approved a bill that would make significant changes to the state’s Department of Education and its state board of education.

Senate Bill 178 was approved with only one “no” vote, from state Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, after four hearings in the Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee.

Multiple education advocates and workforce representatives gave their input on the massive new bill that would upend the current Ohio Department of Education and State Board of Education.

Many of them supported certain parts of the bill, such as emphasis on career technical education, but many also had hesitations about directing the chain of command to the governor’s office, and stripping the board of education’s power. Others criticized the rushed lame-duck timeline and lack of materials to fully view and vet the proposed bill.

SB 178, if passed, would restructure the entire department of education, creating a new administrative division under the governor’s office. The agency, called the Department of Education and Workforce, would have two divisions under it, one for primary and secondary education and another for career technical education.

The State Board of Education, however, would have less on its agenda, with the bill chopping duties down to selecting a state superintendent of public instruction and enforcing teacher licensure and conduct rules.

The membership of the board would not change if the bill goes through, which would have to happen before the end of December, the end of the current General Assembly.

Some current members of the Ohio State Board of Education spoke out against the measure, accusing sponsors of making the move because of the most recent election, in which three progressive-leaning candidates were elected, replacing a DeWine-appointee and two other conservative-leaning members who spoke in support of legislation prohibiting “divisive” concepts and race-based history lessons in Ohio schools.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, supporters said reforming the state’s Department of Education could be a welcome way to focus on training a workforce that could improve the economy in Ohio.

The Ohio School Boards Association supports the idea of boosting career technical education, but had concerns about the restructuring of the state board of education.

“At the core of our existence is the belief that education in Ohio will be at its best when the interests of the people are served through publicly elected boards and the State Board of Education is no different,” said Nicole Piscitani, lobbyist for the OSBA, who also proposed that the board be fully elected, rather than partly elected, partly governor-appointed, as it is now.

There were interested parties who testified during the meeting wanting to hear more about the bill than they have so far. Some complained that the language of bill isn’t accessible to the public on the Ohio Legislature’s website. As of Tuesday evening, the only language is a one-page document indicating the sponsor’s intent to reform the department.

“Now, the General Assembly comes again, promising transparency, effectiveness, and democracy if we the people just hand over our choices and children,” said Union County resident Kyle Garrett. “Where is that transparency? Certainly not on the legislature’s website.”

Anthony Podojil, of the Alliance for High Quality Education, said his group wants more answers on the engagement of a new administration with stakeholders, how feedback would be received and the public presence of a new department.

“Questions like these have been at the forefront of our members’ minds these past few days, and the largely unspecific SB 178 fails to provide answers, which creates serious unease among our members,” Podojil said.

But committee chair state Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, said urgency in resolving issues at the department of education and the state board was necessary and so far missing.

He complimented the intentions of board members and the interim superintendent of public instruction, but said board meetings in particular devolve into disorganization, where “nothing is getting accomplished.”

“There’s haggling, there’s arguing, there’s mostly discussion over parliamentary procedure in the board,” said Brenner, who is a non-voting, “ex officio” member of the board due to his status as a legislator.

Brenner pushed for passage of the bill, though he acknowledged it “is not perfect, it needs some work.”

The measure now moves to the Senate floor for a vote, which could happen as early as Wednesday afternoon. If passed, the bill then moves on to the House for consideration.


This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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