By Susan Tebben
Ohio Capital Journal
COLUMBUS, OH — The Ohio Senate passed a bill to overhaul the administration of the state’s education system in a Wednesday vote along party lines.
The 26-7 party-line vote on Senate Bill 1 came with fierce urgency from GOP supporters that the chances must be completed to improve the way in which education is led in the state.
Senate Education Committee chair Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, complimented the State Board of Education members for being hardworking people with good intentions for the state education system.
“Yet the structure they find themselves in is sluggish and incapable of getting through the bureaucracies,” Brenner said on the Senate floor.
Democratic opposition questioned the motives, but also the speed at which the measure was pushed through the chamber, claiming the true intent of the bill hasn’t yet been teased out.
Senate Education Committee ranking member Sen. Catherine Ingram, D-Cincinnati, said spotlighting districts at the bottom of state report cards or test scores only points to a greater problem not addressed by SB 1.
“When you continue to point to the lowest achieving districts, unfortunately you are continuing to point to those children who have been left behind all along,” Ingram said.
After multiple hearings in the last General Assembly and in the current one that included hours of testimony against the bill, Ingram said she fears the desires of the public, and elected school boards in each district, will be overlooked if the bill becomes law.
“We continue to talk about how we listen to the people,” Ingram said. “I don’t buy it.”
If SB 1 moves on to be passed by the GOP-majority House, it will change the Ohio Department of Education to the Department of Education and Workforce, and create a new leadership position not under the purview of the Ohio State Board of Education, but under the governor’s cabinet.
Two deputy directors, one for primary and secondary education and another for workforce, would also be created under the bill.
If passed, the transfer of duties to the new leadership would happen six months after the bill’s passage.
The bill would reduce the Ohio State Board of Education’s powers to include hiring a new superintendent of public instruction and dealing with district-level territorial and licensure issues.
In the Senate Education Committee, several amendments were made, for the most part by Republican legislators.
Amendments added to the bill before its full Senate passage changed the implementation date of the proposed law, taking it from June 30, 2023, to 90 days after full General Assembly passage.
The committee also adopted an amendment that would allow the superintendent of public instruction to serve as an advisor to the heads of the new department, which was originally a requirement in the bill.
A Democratic amendment adopted requires the Senate Education Committee to hold at least one in-person meeting before approving a director or deputy director for DEW.
Scott DiMauro, of the Ohio Education Association, agreed that the bill’s true aim is unclear at this point.
“I’m still not seeing exactly how restructuring the department get to what are ultimately policy decisions and support decisions,” DiMauro said. “It raises questions about what the impact of this will be.”
DiMauro said he hopes the House consideration will include changes to ensure a voice for educators and the public.
“I hope that whatever happens with this whole issue of any kind of restructuring … wherever Senate Bill 1 ends up, that lawmakers are not losing sight of a larger purpose,” he said.
The bill came back to the Senate hastily after the lame-duck effort last year was rejected at the last minute. Senate President Matt Huffman pledged after the effort went down to bring it back as quickly as possible.
When asked what he sees as the direct impact of SB 1, Huffman said it would “allow greater opportunity for reforms” and the “ability to act on specific problems.”
“When I have district meetings, and folks ask me questions and I can’t get the current answer,” Huffman said. “I know that I’m going to be able to get a better answer now.”
SB 1 now moves to the House for committee consideration.