Ohio Senate votes to change who controls public education in Ohio

The Ohio Senate voted Wednesday to change who is in charge of the state's public education system.
The Ohio Senate voted Wednesday to change who is in charge of the state's public education system.

Who leads Ohio's public education system is getting closer to changing. The Ohio Senate voted 22-7 on Wednesday for a bill that would take control from an elected state board and give it to the governor's office.

"This is the kind of bill that changes and will change for decades to come basic education policy in Ohio...," Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said. "I think the time has come."

And his fellow Republicans agree.

Test scores are dropping, absenteeism is rising and nearly one in five students need remedial English and math courses after graduating high school.

"This bill, by the way, is not perfect...," Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, said Tuesday. But "there seems to be no urgency coming from the Ohio Department of Education. It’s not there. It hasn’t been there for several years."

Something needs to change, Brenner said. And he thinks Senate Bill 178 is a step in the right direction.

More:30% of Ohio students chronically absent from school in 2021-22 school year

Senate Bill 178 would transform Ohio Department of Education

The 2,100-page bill would rename the Ohio Department of Education as the Department of Education and Workforce and create a new leadership structure within that organization.

Instead of a state superintendent who is elected by the State Board of Education, the department would be run by a director appointed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Beneath that director would be two deputies, one for K-12 education and one for career technical education.

All of the state board's current education responsibilities such as curriculum, implementation of new laws, and strategic planning would transfer to this new director. The board would keep control over teacher licensing and territory transfers.

More:What to know about the plans for major changes in Ohio Department of Education

"This bill proposes placing more power in the executive branch, which will silence the public's voice, access, and transparency regarding education policymaking," Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper said.

Ohioans can testify before the state board during its monthly meetings−something hundreds of people have done in recent months as the board debated federal protections for LGBTQ students.

Cropper and others like Democratic Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson worry that the public will lose that direct contact with the people who craft big-picture education policy if those duties go to a member of the governor's cabinet.

Another concern is how quickly this massive change is moving through the legislature.

Though the idea of giving the executive branch more control over public education has been around since George Voinovich was governor in the early 1990s, this particular bill wasn't dropped until after the November elections. The move came a week after Democrats gained three seats on the board.

Educators and Democrats have had less than a month with the legislation.

"We’re just concerned that we are moving really quickly," Alliance for Quality Education Director Tony Podojil said.

The alliance represents 70 "high-performing school districts" in Ohio. Podojil told lawmakers that the schools he represents would like more time to think through all the potential pitfalls from such a major change.

"We would have some things that we would probably suggest that might work better. Going back to a fully elected board might be something to consider...," Podojil said. "I’m not sure we even understand why we are at where we are at today."

Anna Staver is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

Get more political analysis by listening to the Ohio Politics Explained podcast

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio Senate votes to change Ohio Department of Education