Lawmakers consider big changes for Ohio State Board of Education

Three candidates, backed by two major teachers’ unions, won last week’s Ohio State Board of Education races. Now, as Ohio lawmakers return to session after the election, they are considering reining in the power of state school board members.

Members of the state school board are bipartisan, and the 19-member board, elected by communities across Ohio, determines much of what happens in Ohio’s K-12 schools.

But a Senate bill, SB178, would change that.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said senators would consider a bill that would give the governor and the legislature more power over the state’s school board.

“We have an isolated bureaucracy with no oversight. That’s the problem. It’s not who’s on the board. It’s the legal basis of what’s happening right now,” Huffman told reporters Wednesday.

Huffman said being a member of the state school board is a part-time, unstaffed job. He said they were unable to manage the Ohio Department of Education.

“This system, as it has grown over the decades in the state of Ohio, essentially has an isolated Ohio Department of Education, is not accountable to the state legislature, and can essentially enforce and parry whatever the members of the state board of education put before them from time to time, and they have no accountability to the governor because they are not his employees,” Huffman said.

This legislation would relieve the elected board of most of its current educational responsibilities and place it in a new cabinet position in the governor’s office.

Cynthia Peeples, founding director of the bipartisan state coalition Honesty for Ohio Education, opposes the law. She said it was a matter of government overreach.

“That really worries us. I mean, every time you take power away from communities, you take away the power of taxpayers and voters to have a say in what education looks like for their own communities and for their own students and families, that’s very worrying. And that power and decision-making shouldn’t rest with a government agency,” Peeples said.

Peeples said the governor is a partisan position, and by placing decisions now made by the State Council under that office’s power, he would introduce partisan politics into K-12 education.

She said she was particularly concerned because lawmakers were considering making such a big change during the Ohio Legislature’s lame duck session, when there wasn’t time to thoroughly review the legislation.

But Huffman said the change is needed now because even some state lawmakers have waited six years to get calls from the department.

Recently, some Conservative board members attempted to pass a resolution that would roll back an anti-discrimination policy by the Biden administration that requires school districts to receive federal funding for school lunches to investigate cases of LGBTQ discrimination.

Meanwhile, school choice advocates have pushed for legislation that would allocate public funds to students to use for private schools.

This is not the first time a push has been made to shift some of the board’s responsibilities under the power of the governor. Former Governor John Kasich, a Republican, tried in 2018 to bring some of the board’s responsibilities under his office. Before that, former Governor George Voinovich, a Republican, attempted a similar move in 1991.

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