As an August deadline looms for Ohio’s State Board of Education candidates, there’s a difference of opinion as to whether the governor has an obligation to change the districts to reflect the most current redistricting plan.
The difference of opinion, the governor’s office and a coalition of education advocates say, is whether redistricting and apportionment go hand-in-hand.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine changed the State Board of Education districts in January, saying his deadline was the end of that month, a statement his office maintained earlier this month when the coalition first asked DeWine to revise the districts. Each of the districts, by Ohio law, must be aligned with three state Senate districts, which is why the status of redistricting maps was so important in the case of this year’s board district map.
But the education coalition Honesty for Ohio Education has sent multiple letters to the governor demanding that he change the districts again, since the Senate districts have changed multiple times since his first go at it.
Ohio Revised Code requires districts to be made up of three “contiguous state senate districts as established in the most recent apportionment for members of the General Assembly.”
It goes on to say that if the General Assembly doesn’t enact the districts “after the apportionment for members of the General Assembly … made in any year,” the governor has to designate the districts by Jan. 31 “of the year next succeeding such apportionment.”
“Since the General Assembly district map in operation for the November 2022 election was effective May 2022, the deadline for re-designating SBOE districts is January 31, 2023,” according to the most recent letter sent by the coalition to the governor.
But the Aug. 10 deadline to file for board candidacy demands action sooner, the coalition argues.
The law on this issue has been debated between the two groups, with Honesty for Education saying that because new redistricting plans have been released and a federal court implemented a legislative map at the end of May, the governor has the ability or, to them, an obligation to revise the districts to reflect the changes.
The coalition lays out several senate districts that are split between state school board districts in their newest letter, in violation of the state law that says board districts must be senate districts must be wholly contained within board of education districts.
“This is, yet again, it’s like pulling teeth to get state officials to draw districts legally,” said Collin Marozzi, a deputy policy director for the ACLU of Ohio who also signed on to the coalition letter, told the OCJ.
Marozzi also said the authority to designate the districts falls squarely on the governor because the General Assembly “has shown no initiative to complete that task.”
“We’re hopeful that the governor will just realize the errors that he’s made in these districts and how they are unambiguously against the law,” Marozzi said.
But the governor’s offices interprets the law differently, arguing the clock started after the U.S. Census Bureau released the data for apportionment – population figures that determine the number of U.S. House seats each state gets which began the redistricting process in Ohio.
“Even if we read apportionment to be the same as redistricting, we wouldn’t be on the clock right now,” said DeWine’s press secretary, Dan Tierney. “The governor wouldn’t be on the clock until (next) January.”
Tierney said the governor has been “in talks” with the General Assembly, but still holds “the understanding” that the GA will not be meeting again until the fall, after the Aug. 10 filing deadline for candidates.
As far as the legality of the districts, Tierney said the governor deferred to the Ohio Secretary of State’s directives on the school board districts.
On July 14, state SOS Frank LaRose sent out guidance to county boards of election, directing them to use the SBOE districts the governor laid out in January of this year.
“As the Ohio General Assembly did not establish new board districts within the statutory time required by law, the governor issued a letter of designation on January 31, 2022, setting the district boundaries,” the press release from LaRose’s office announcing the implementation of the districts stated.
Follow OCJ Reporter Susan Tebben on Twitter.
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