Shame on lawmakers who snuck sweetheart charter, voucher deals into substitute teacher bill
Ohio’s schools are crying out for a fix to the substitute teacher shortage in our state. In 2018, about 16,400 people worked as substitute teachers in Ohio; in 2021, that number had plummeted to only about 5,000. And as a result, students, educators, and Ohio families suffered. Schools had to shift to remote instruction, educators who were already stretched thin had to cover other classes during their planning periods and lunches, and students ended up warehoused in auditoriums where they received adult supervision but no educational instruction.
House Bill 583 was proposed to address that shortage by increasing flexibility for districts to hire subs. Substitutes are typically required to have a four-year degree, but during the pandemic, the state legislature passed a temporary measure allowing anyone 18 or older with a high school diploma to seek a substitute teacher’s license. HB 583 would extend that measure for another two years. This is not a permanent solution, and OEA preferred a shorter extension of these flexible hiring standards for only one year. Nonetheless, extending this temporary flexibility would provide schools a helpful tool to address ongoing staffing shortages.
Unfortunately, some charter school interests, many of whom are for-profit entities, have sought to capitalize on the substitute teacher crisis by adding a major accountability loophole to HB 583 in the 11th hour after it had passed in the House. During the Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee meeting on May 24, legislators added several controversial charter and voucher amendments without proper consideration by other legislators and stakeholders.
These amendments, which were left in the bill when it fully passed out of the General Assembly on June 1, are sweetheart deals for charter school sponsors and have nothing to do with addressing the substitute teacher shortage.
One amendment weakens the accountability of charter school sponsors by prohibiting the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) from assigning an overall sponsor rating of “ineffective” or lower solely because the sponsor received no points on one of the three evaluation criteria, which includes academic performance, adherence to quality practices, and compliance with laws and administrative rules. Receiving zero points on any of these criteria should, in itself, be considered a huge red flag, and that is how the current ODE sponsor evaluations treats a zero. HB 583 would reverse the current ODE sponsor evaluation requirement that no sponsor can score better than “ineffective” if it receives zero points in any component. Unfortunately, this amendment prioritizes the interests of charter school sponsors over the interests of Ohio students attending charter schools.
Meanwhile, another amendment that was slipped into HB 583 will force Ohio taxpayers to spend their hard-earned money on sending more kids to private, mostly religious schools that fail to perform as well as their traditional public school counterparts, even when their families can afford to cover more tuition on their own.
Currently, a family that qualifies for these income-based vouchers receives less money from the state if their financial situation improves. That’s only fair. But, moving forward, a family of four with a six-figure income will still get as much in vouchers as they received when they were making a fraction of that money at the time of qualifying for an income-based voucher. And if one sibling receives an income-based voucher, other siblings will still be able to qualify for an income-based voucher at a later date, even if the family no longer qualified for an income-based voucher, and regardless of how high the family income may have risen.
Lawmakers should have rejected these amendments. They should have sent the bill to conference committee after it was passed by the Senate so that the House could have had a fair chance to fully consider the ramifications of these permanent changes. They should have kept the focus of HB 583 on temporarily extending flexible hiring standards for substitute teachers.
Now, Ohioans should be disappointed that this mangled bill will become law with a stroke of the governor’s pen.
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