Advocacy Update – 11.17.22 – Déjà vu All Over Again? Bill to Merge ODE with Workforce Development and Disempower the State Board of Education Resurfaces in Lame Duck Session

In 2018, during the Kasich administration, then-Representative Reineke introduced HB512, which would have consolidated several agencies, including the Ohio Department of Education, into one super-agency to be run from the governor’s office. The powers of the State Board of Education would be limited largely to teacher licensure decisions. The legislation was hailed by the business community as necessary to support workforce development. Education groups and parents, particularly home-school parents, viewed the legislation as removing public input on education decisions. After a few hearings, the bill died and did not surface again until this week when now-Senator Reineke introduced SB176, which is placeholder legislation for the forthcoming bill. The bill appears to be a version of HB512 from the 132nd General Assembly. 

Senator Reineke provided sponsor testimony on November 15th outlining the provisions of SB175 as well as his view as to why the bill is necessary. In addition to the reasons for HB512 which were all about efficiency, Senator Reineke spoke about the ineffectiveness of the State Board and ODE as the reason for the bill. The chair of the Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee, Andrew Brenner, indicated that there would be several hearings on the bill. The sponsor, the chair, and the senate president, Matt Huffman, would like the legislation to pass in the lame duck session. 

Back in 2018, there was an incredible amount of pushback against HB512, which definitely rankled the bill sponsor.  The opposition was ultimately too great to overcome. So why reintroduce another version the bill after four years? And more importantly, can it pass? The answer to latter question is yes, which tells us why the bill was reintroduced.  The political climate has changed dramatically in four years and circumstances are very different: 

  • The culture wars that have exploded nationally have bogged down the State Board of Education in lengthy discussions about trans rights, Title IX, the 1619 project etc. etc. The board is seen as weak and ineffective by the General Assembly. Add the failed search for a State Superintendent and a soon-to-be Democratic party majority on the board, and there is ample reason for the General Assembly to disempower the board.
  • In 2018, there was some support in the General Assembly for dismantling the role of the State Board of Education, but now it seems to be a priority for Matt Huffman, who is arguably the most powerful political power in Ohio right now. A long-time voucher proponent, President Huffman insists that culture wars are not the driving force behind his support of the bill. It is more so the poor execution of several choice programs such as the ACE (Afterschool Childhood Enrichment) accounts. He believes that ODE staff have  implemented the programs poorly, because they oppose them. Huffman notes, “That’s simply a group of people who don’t like the program and aren’t going to do it. And the problem with that is, it’s the state law. They’re supposed to do what the state law says, not because they like it, but because it’s the law.” 
  • It’s lame duck season!! Bills that normally would receive many hearings have a way of passing with very little public input in the lame duck session. 

It is unclear if the Governor DeWine supports this bill or not, and which groups will support or oppose the bill. It is also unclear if Speaker of the House, Bob Cupp supports the bill. But in January, the House will have a new speaker, Representative Derek Merrin. Merrin, a real estate investor, has not served on any education committees, so his views on education are unknown to us, for now. But if the bill doesn’t pass in the lame duck session, it is highly likely that we will see it again in the new year in the 135th General Assembly. 

If this bill passes, it will severely limit the ability of individuals and smaller organizations to provide input into education decisions. Hearings stopped on HB512 before OAGC could provide testimony. But it might be useful for gifted advocates to read the OAGC draft testimony for HB512. If HB178 is anything like HB512, it will be a blow to education advocates who want their voices to be heard.