Criticism of Ohio’s state board of education continues as overhaul is considered

Republican push to overhaul education board comes after Democratic-affiliated candidates won in election

By: - December 1, 2022 5:00 am

Ohio Department of Education. Photo by WEWS.

Ohio’s State Board of Education was called dysfunctional and inefficient as lawmakers considered a bill to overhaul it and the entire state department of education, but others also said the bill shouldn’t be rushed.

In the two days of testimony this week for a GOP-proposed bill to gut the roles of the board of ed and include a workforce element into the state Department of Education, almost all of those speaking before the Senate Primary & Secondary Education Committee supported the bill.

Troy McIntosh, head of the Ohio Christian Education Network, said there was an “ongoing level of dysfunction” within the Department of Education, and cited a “very poor rollout” of the department’s Afterschool Child Enrichment program and “extremely slow” processing of EdChoice private school voucher processing as part of the problems he sees within the state agency.

He also said the board is perpetuating “harm to children cause by an inability to provide clear direction on basic questions related to children, such as ‘what is a boy?,’ ‘what is a girl?,’ ‘should boys be allowed in girls’ bathrooms?,’ ‘should teachers be sexualizing content in elementary school?'”

McIntosh did not refer to specific issues before the board, but seemed to be referring to a resolution currently tangled in controversy at the board, which would stand in opposition to federal anti-discrimination rule changes that would include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. The resolution, which has yet to receive a full vote after one amendment and several meetings, would not hold any enforcement power.

While the problems within the board are “well-known,” according to McIntosh, the problems extend out to a lack of knowledge on the public’s part as to who their representatives on the board are.

“This lack of familiarity leads to elections that can be and are heavily influenced by money, because the election will too often come down to name recognition rather than any qualifications or policy positions of the candidates,” McIntosh said.

Eleven of the state board members are elected, with the rest appointed by the governor.

In the most recent election, two incumbent members of the board were unseated, which some have said led to the creation of this measure.

“The (State Board of Education) is nonpartisan and should remain such,” said board member Michelle Newman, in Twitter thread on the bill. “Yes, we all have political leanings, and that’s fine. Our end goal should be student success. Conservative ideologues have hijacked the board to disrupt the success of public education.”

Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association said he understands the frustration some have with the body, particularly “when you see the amount of time that has been spent on issues that are really advisory in nature.”

But he sees that as a natural occurrence in a democratic body.

“I don’t know that that’s a structural problem,” DiMauro said. “Some of that is the nature of the political climate that we’re in today, and I don’t know that this is the best approach to address some of those things.”

In terms of the Department of Education itself, the OEA head doesn’t find it to be as flawed as others.

“We have found the department to be very responsive, the department to be very mission-focused,” DiMauro said.

But with a substitute bill that’s just north of 2,100 pages, what DiMauro doesn’t see is a reason to push the bill now.

“I do not believe that this type of change should be enacted in the waning days of session,” he told the senate committee. “Stakeholder input is needed.”

The 134th General Assembly is set to end on December 31, meaning any bills that aren’t passed by then must be reintroduced in the new year. It’s unclear whether the bill will see more hearings in the coming weeks.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.