Ohio Department of Education. Photo by WEWS.
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
Democratic-affiliated candidates won control over the State Board of Education in Ohio, and one week later, Republican lawmakers moved a bill forward to strip their powers.
For the first time in years, progressive candidates will control the elected seats on the executive agency, regulating if a resolution is able to pass or not. Candidates are voted on as nonpartisan candidates, however, each leans conservative or progressive and will be endorsed by a party. School board candidates tend to share their beliefs publicly.
Three of the five seats up for grabs were taken by liberal candidates. Tom Jackson, of Solon, beat out incumbent Tim Miller by about 50,000 votes. Teresa Fedor, a now-former state senator from Toledo, beat opponent Sarah McGervey by more than 30,000 votes. Katie Hofmann, of Cincinnati, beat out incumbent Jenny Kilgore by around 30,000 votes.
“We’re just looking forward to getting back to Columbus and doing the people’s work,” Jackson told OCJ/WEWS.
Now, seven of the 11 elected seats are held by Democrats. The elected seats ensure that the total board can’t pass all resolutions it wants, since it needs a 2/3 majority. Of the 19 total seats, eight were appointed by Gov. DeWine. Now, with 12 GOP seats, a Democrat would need to switch over for policy to pass. This could change depending on attendance.
This excitement of winning was short-lived for Jackson. Right now, the board is currently responsible for what K-12 public education looks like in the state. But a newly-revived bill would strip the members from developing education policy, establishing financial standards and implementing programs.
“They’re looking for solutions to a problem in the wrong place,” the member-elect said.
Republican state Sen. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) says the department of education needs a massive overhaul to improve student success, such as combatting the struggling remediation rate and offering more workforce development opportunities. The lawmaker was unavailable to speak Friday.
“Senate Bill 178 addresses this need by refocusing our system at the state level on what matters most: our children and their future,” Reineke said in his testimony.
The only responsibilities left for the board would be selecting the state superintendent, licensing teachers, handling staff disciplinary issues and making school territory transfer decisions.
If Reineke is really concerned with student achievement, he should talk to his GOP colleagues, since they create the education laws, Jackson argued.
“The Republicans have controlled for years, so they really need to look at their own actions and stop scapegoating the state board,” he said. “The timing is just too curious.”
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said this has been an ongoing proposal for years.
“We have an isolated bureaucracy with no oversight, that’s the problem,” Huffman told reporters. “It’s not who’s on the board.”
Huffman and fellow lawmakers have been frustrated by the board of years now. This isn’t the first attempt to take power away. For the senate president, the board either takes too long to implement new laws or just ignores lawmakers.
“That system as it has grown through the decades in the state of Ohio essentially has an isolated Ohio Department of Education, who has no responsibility to the state legislature,” he said. “They don’t have any responsibility to the governor either because they’re not his employees.”
Ohio was left without a state superintendent of public instruction following Steve Dackin’s tumultuous hiring-then-resigning by the board in June.
Still, what this bill is proposing is clearly government overreach, Jackson said.
“It doesn’t address the needs of the students today, but it is in lockstep with not only the state legislature, but the state’s attorney general’s office,” he said.
The bill was introduced close to two years ago, so Jackson wants to know why it only got its first hearing once the Democrats took over.
“When you ask the people of the state of Ohio to vote for school board members, they’ve chosen majority of school board members that are affiliated with the Democratic Party,” Jackson said. “I absolutely think that that’s part of their calculus.”
Huffman denied this, also saying that it doesn’t have to do with the attention-grabbing behavior of the Board of Ed. lately.
“It doesn’t really have to do with these recent resolutions, or a lot of other things that are timely in terms of public discussion.”
That’s disingenuous, Jackson responded.
“You’re trying to jam something through both houses into the governor’s desk in less than six weeks,” he added. “So the timing is very curious, but with the players involved, it’s not surprising at all.”
The lawmakers say the bill will be heard again after Thanksgiving.
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