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Ohio education restructuring garners business support




Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Public education officials might be largely opposed to an Ohio Senate measure looking to restructure the Ohio Department of Education, but business leaders are on board.

Among the proponents of Senate Bill 1 is the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, which sees the restructure as a way to meet goals in its own “blueprint for Ohio’s economic future.”

“Because this issue is so critical to our state’s business community, this legislation is one of our top policy priorities for the 135th General Assembly,” said the chamber’s senior vice president, Rick Carfagna.

The workforce in the state “hinges on a K-12 education system that prepares students for postsecondary education, career and technical school programs, workforce skills training and other opportunities that will help to enhance their success in life beyond high school,” Carfagna told the House Economic and Workforce Development Committee this week.

But a downward trend in math and reading proficiency levels in Ohio are worrying business leaders, who say the trends predate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These scores highlight the need for the legislature to ensure that our education system upholds its responsibilities in the preparation of our young people to find personal fulfillment and reach their individual potentials,” Carfagna said.

The chamber see the answer in SB 1, and its companion bill, House Bill 12, with a greater focus on career tech and accountability in education.

The two bills would rename the ODE the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, splitting up the department into a workforce component and a parallel primary and secondary education component. The leadership of the department would move under the governor’s cabinet as well, reducing the role of the Ohio State Board of Education as well.

The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and the Ohio Home Builders Association also put their support behind the bill, with the OMA calling accountability within the education and workforce development sectors “clearly fragmented.”

“The alignment between education and workforce development is more important than ever as the state continues to face labor shortages and other workforce challenges,” Lindsey Short, OMA’s director of public policy services, said in written testimony to the committee.

SB 1, she said, would “ensure K-12 outcomes are rooted in practical, applied learning and create greater accountability results.”

Vince Squillace, executive vice president for the OHBA told the committee it supports SB 1 because “despite competitive pay, the home building industry continues to experience labor shortages,” impacting housing affordability, and emphasizing the need for “renewed and heightened emphasis on career-technical education.”

“With increased attention on skills training, now is the time to raise awareness about career paths available to students, including those in residential construction industry,” Squillace wrote in his testimony.

The business-education group Ohio Excels also supported the bill, but made one suggestion to improve it, fearing separating workforce and education “may unintentionally silo career education at a time when it needs to be more integrated into the curriculum for all students,” according to group president, Lisa Gray.

Gray, who said she was speaking on behalf of Ohio Excels, along with the Ohio Business Roundtable and the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Ohio, criticized the current education system, “where lines of authority for policymaking, budget-setting and accountability are increasingly split among a fractured set of policymakers.”

“This is not an indictment of all those who currently sit on the State Board of Education or lead the Ohio Department of Education,” Gray told the committee. “It is about the best way to govern public education in Ohio, particularly in light of Ohio’s workforce needs and the ongoing educational challenges we face.”

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

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