Ohio Statehouse education committee heads could predict priorities for state

Committee leaders have pushed school board overhaul, expanded vouchers, increased homeschool support, and censorship of curriculum

By: - February 7, 2023 5:00 am

The Oho Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

As cosponsors of specific legislation related to education, the newly appointed members of Ohio’s General Assembly committees on education could spell out the future of education policy in the state.

Newly appointed members of education committees in the Ohio Statehouse have pushed bills to overhaul the state board of education, more private school subsidies with voucher expansion, increased homeschool funding, and censoring curriculum.

Leadership is made up of members of the GOP supermajority, who have pushed for expanding private school subsidies, especially funding that would allow more students to use vouchers (called the EdChoice program) to attend private, sometimes religious schools, rather than the public schools in the district.

Continuing his tenure as chair of the state’s Senate Education Committee is Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware.

State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell. Official photo.

Brenner has been one of the leaders of the charge for Senate Bill 1, which was introduced and nearly fast-tracked through the General Assembly last year as SB 178. The bill, recently reintroduced by state Sen. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, would overhaul the state Department of Education by renaming it to include “workforce” in the name, and redirect leadership ability to a director under the governor’s office. It would also remove administrative roles from the Ohio State Board of Education, moving roles other than teacher discipline and territory disputes to the director’s purview.

Senate President Matt Huffman pledged to bring the bill across the finish line in this General Assembly after SB 178, which was added into House Bill 151 late on the last day of the GA, didn’t receive enough votes as the last GA ended in December. The measure wasn’t helped with last minute additions of controversial legislation banning trans athletes in sports pertaining to their gender identity and a ban on K-12 COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman. Official photo.

Brenner was been a vocal critic of the state board of education’s methods throughout SB 178’s journey through the GA. Serving as an ex-officio member of the board, Brenner said the lack of knowledge shown during meetings and a lack of urgency in hiring a new superintendent of public instruction showed the need for changes on the board.

“My concern, and one of the reasons I’m co-sponsoring this bill … is urgency,” Brenner told the state board last month. “It’s been 18 months (and) this board still has not picked a permanent superintendent, which is a constitutional requirement of this board.”

The state board held off yet again on hiring a search firm for the superintendent search because of the very bill seeking to change their role in the state.

Brenner’s education committee vice-chair has her own aims for education in the new year.

State Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Ashtabula, will sit next to Brenner during Education committees, which are set to include an EdChoice expansion bill with her name on it. The bill seeks to expand EdChoice to allow more funding to go with each student, rather than be distributed through the public school districts.

Ohio state Sen. Sandra O’Brien, R-Ashtabula County. Official photo.

O’Brien introduced a similar bill in the last GA, but it didn’t make it through the GA before year’s end, forcing its reintroduction as Senate Bill 11.

Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond. Official photo.

State Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, will chair the committee. In the last General Assembly, he attempted a bipartisan effort to make every seat on the state board of education elected, eliminating the spots appointed by the governor. He was the co-sponsor of a bill that was successfully passed and signed by the governor to address the teacher shortage in the state.

His vice-chair, state Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, led one of a few “divisive concepts” bills to censor curriculums in Ohio schools to avoid topics such as the history of race relations in schools.

As a former homeschooler herself, Fowler Arthur has pushed for more support for homeschooling, and in her official biography on the Ohio House’s website, the former state board of ed member said she “has supported parental direction of children’s education and local control of Ohio’s public schools throughout her tenure.”

But Fowler Arthur’s House Bill 327, introduced in the last GA, was mired in significant controversy after she said, referencing talking about the Holocaust in schools, that “you also do have an obligation to point out the value that each individual brings to the table.”

Education priorities will be spelled out further with a new budget to be passed this year. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine laid out his priorities in his State of the State address, and the legislature will have until June 30 to pass a new budget.

Ohio state Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, R-Ashtabula. Official photo.

Leaders of the education unions throughout the state are remaining resolute in their pledge to work with legislators on the needs of the education community.

“Our members are eager to share their expertise and insights on education policy with the new chairs and members of the House and Senate Education Committees so that we can work together to address the needs of students, parents, teachers, and school support staff,” said Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

Ohio Education Association president Scott DiMauro is looking to the legislative session as “a tremendous opportunity to address school funding, the educator shortage, the wellbeing of our students and staff, and other issues that affect our members and the learners we serve.”



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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.