Advocacy Update – 1.5.23 – Speaker Surprise, Lame Duck Education Bill Recap 

Speaker Surprise – In a surprising move, the Ohio House voted Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) to be the next Speaker of the Ohio House. Scott Oelslager was elected Speaker Pro Tempore.  It was widely expected that Derek Merron would be the speaker as had the majority caucus support. All 32 Democrats joined 22 republicans to elect Rep. Stephens. Those representatives are Cindy Abram, Monica Robb Blasdel, Sara Carruthers, Jon Cross, Al Cutrona, Jay Edwards, Haraz Ghanbari, Brett Hillyer, Don Jones, Jeff LaRe, Mike Loychik, Kevin Miller, Scott Oelsalger, Tom Patton, Gail Pavliga, Bob Peterson, Tracy Richardson, Jean Schmidt, Bill Seitz, D.J. Swearingen, and Bob Young.  It does not appear that all of these republicans are considered moderate.

It is not unprecedented for Ohio democrats to join forces republicans to elect a speaker. This happened as recently as 2019 when they worked with republicans to elect former and representative, Larry Householder, over Ryan Smith. (Householder was removed from office over allegations of corruption which will soon be tried in federal court.) Ironically, Jason Stephens currently sits in Ryan Smith’s old seat. What this means for a potential chair for the primary and secondary education committee is unclear. Gail Manning, the current chair was absent from the vote. Don Jones, a past chair, was in leadership the last two years. Promoting Rep. Oelslager to House leadership will leave a hole in leadership the Finance Committee, where he has been the chair for several years. 

It should be noted that the new speaker voted in support of education governance reform bill. It is unclear how far that support extends and how similar legislation will fare in the 135th General Assembly. It is a priority for Senate President Matt Huffman, so we will see this bill again. 

Education Bill Round-Up from the Lame Duck Session – While the education governance reform bill did not pass in the lame duck session, there were several education bills that did:  

HB554 (Lightbody-Bird) was initially introduced as a way to address educator shortages by making it easier for teachers with expired licenses to return to the classroom. But several other amendments were added, including one that encompassed SB356 (Brenner), which expands the definition of children with a developmental delay, affecting special education funding levels for those students. Other were: 

– Requiring that schools let children from military families either complete remotely or terminate without academic or financial penalty College Credit Plus courses when they must withdraw from those schools because the family is assigned to a new military installation. 

– Specifying that, if costs increase for a STEM school project through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, the increased cost will be spilt in proportion to their respective contributions to the project. 

– Allowing students at state-chartered private schools to earn a diploma by earning a remediation-free score in English, math and reading on the ACT or SAT, without having to earn diploma seals. The bill also requires the Ohio Department of Education to set up standards for giving transfer students credit toward graduation for ACT, SAT, end-of-course exam or alternative assessment results. 

SB288 (Manning), included “Erin’s Law,” which requires instruction in prevention of child sexual abuse and sexual violence.

HB66 (Hoops) included the following education-related provisions: 

– Ending the requirement that charter schools file an annual statement with the tax commissioner affirming they qualify for their property tax exemptions, instead reinstating the typical process used by other schools and most other property owners seeking an exemption. 

– Creating temporary authority for schools to seek renewal of an emergency levy and a combination income tax and fixed-sum property tax levy via a single ballot question. 

– Creating a temporary procedure for a school district that acquired property in February 2021 to apply for a tax exemption for tax year 2021.

– Specifying that joint filers can claim a credit of up to $1,500 per year for donations to organizations that grant scholarships to primary and secondary school students. The individual filer credit is $750, but the law previously did not specifically address joint returns. 

Another education-related tax policy winning final approval in lame duck was the expansion of the income tax deduction for contributions to 529 college savings plans. In SB33 (Hottinger-Brenner), lawmakers enabled the deduction to apply to contributions toward programs established by any state, rather than only for contributions made to Ohio’s plans, CollegeAdvantage, run by the Ohio Tuition Trust Authority. The deduction limit of $4,000 per beneficiary per year remains the same.

HB45 (West-Roemer) included about $1.75 billion in federal relief funds for schools as well as several education policy provisions. Among them were the following: 

– Extension of the Afterschool Child Enrichment (ACE) education savings account program into FY24 and expansion of the per-student, per-fiscal year funding from $500 to $1,000. Lawmakers created this as a pandemic learning recovery initiative to help low- to moderate-income families pay for the likes of tutoring, camps and afterschool programming. Slow implementation of that program was cited by Senate Republicans as an example of the need for the SB178 overhaul of education governance. 

– Authorization for schools to conduct raffles to raise money.

– Acceleration of the phase-in for disadvantaged pupil impact aid for FY23 from 14 percent to 33.33 percent.

– Prohibition of a requirement from the Board of Building Standards for school buildings to have storm shelters. 

State Board of Education – The State Board of Education will meet on Tuesday, January 10th in a one-day only meeting that will largely focus on the election of new board officers.