State Lawmakers Reintroduce Bill to Overhaul Ohio Education System and Board of Education

Ohio Senate Republicans are making another attempt to overhaul the state education system and the State Board of Education by introducing a bill Wednesday afternoon that reconsiders a proposition that fell short of approval last month.

The 2,000-page bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, sponsored by State Senator Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin), would “restructure” the Ohio Department of Education, create a new administrative division under the governor’s office, and reduce the duties of the State Board of Education. This was the first introduced bill of 2023.

Under the proposed law, the bill will create a “state cabinet-level agency,” the Department of Education and Workforce, with the Division of Primary and Secondary Education and the Division of Career Technical Education inside its boundaries.

According to Reineke, two people sitting on the governor’s Executive Workforce Board will direct those divisions.

The Senate approved similar law, SB 178,  in early December, but the House did not approve it before the session ended later that month.

The bill would reduce the State Board of Education’s role in choosing the state’s superintendent of public instruction, implementing and enforcing rules on teacher licensure, handling educator and staff conduct cases, and considering school territory transfers as part of the bill.

Outside, the General Assembly would decide what additional roles and duties the board would have.

According to Reineke, the board of education is in need of good leadership right now.

“I feel that the purpose of the legislation is critical to the improvement of the state,” Reineke said.

Individuals appointed by Governor Mike DeWine manage the majority of Ohio’s big state agencies, including the Health and Medicaid departments. Because the head of education is not a member of the governor’s cabinet, it stands out.

According to State Senator Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware County), the lack of leadership is a problem. Since 2021, the Board of Education has used interims to fill the office of superintendent after Paolo DeMaria announced his resignation.

“It’s ridiculous. The department has been without a permanent leader at a time when chronic absenteeism and learning loss are at record highs,” Brenner said.

However, there are still many who oppose the legislation, like Teresa Fedor, a former Democratic Senator and a new board member elected in November. Fedor opposed the original legislation and she opposes the re-introduction.

“It’s clearly a power grab that will silence the voice of the people and local control. This is a local control state and Republicans we know can’t be trusted. All we have to do is look at ECOT and 25 years of not funding schools constitutionally,” Fedor said.

This year the bill does not contain two controversial measures involving vaccine requirements and transgender athletes, which Republicans added to the previous bill late in the lame-duck session last month. However, Republican lawmakers say they aren’t opposed to adding them back in.

According to Ohio law, the governor appoints eight of the state board’s 19 members. Ohio citizens pick the remaining 11 members in nonpartisan elections. In November of last year, Democrats won three more seats, two of which Republican incumbents held.

Although DeWine has not initiated any legislation, DeWine’s office is reportedly keeping a close watch on SB 1, and previously he vocalized his support for SB 178 last year.

“I think virtually every governor for 40 or 50 years has wanted to have more control in regard to the Department of Education. So this governor is not going to be different. You know, I support the bill,” DeWine said.

This is not the first time an Ohio governor has sought to change Ohio’s education system.

Ohio’s public school system was to be redesigned, according to a 2007 directive by former Governor Ted Strickland. He sought to improve communication between the state’s public schools and its post-secondary institutions, such as its colleges and adult vocational centers.

Then in 2015, former Governor John Kasich also sought to alter the roles and structure of the board.

Both efforts fell short.

Senior Press Secretary for the Ohio Majority Caucus Garth Kant said that the Ohio Board of Education needs to be held accountable.

“Bringing accountability to the Ohio Department of Education is a priority for parents, students and families. Following rampant chronic absenteeism in the last school year, we need to make sure students are in class and learning. This bill begins at the same starting point as originally introduced in the prior General Assembly, and we look forward to developments and input from the upcoming committee hearings,” Kant told The Ohio Star.

According to Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) overhauling the department of education is a priority and he plans to start committee hearings next week.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Background Photo “Ohio Department of Education Building” by Sixflashphoto. CC BY-SA 4.0.




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