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Ohio Senate passes plan to overhaul the state’s education department

Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau

Senate Republicans passed a comprehensive bill — which spans more than 2,000 pages — to overhaul the Ohio Department of Education and strip power away from the Ohio State Board of Education.

The legislation would shift that authority over to the office of the Ohio Governor and rename the agency to be the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce.

Under the bill, the director the newly-created ODEW would serve in the governor’s cabinet, with an appointment to be confirmed by the Ohio Senate.

This major policy shift has been proposed many times in the past and is often the topic of discussion during lame-duck sessions. However, unlike previous attempts, this legislation might be in the best position yet to pass both legislative chambers.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said it’s likely that an “accumulation of frustration” with the current ODE system is what has led to more support for the bill.

Huffman adds that the proposed education structure would make the legislature and governor’s office more accountable for the state’s education, with issues that currently fall to the state board of education.

“The problem isn't the state school board. The problem is the permanent bureaucracy with no accountability and no transparency,” said Huffman. “You're going to have 132 members of the General Assembly who can go talk to the governor and his director to try to get all these things done. And I, for 15 years, I know how this works, and it's not working right now.”

Critics of the plan, including every Senate Democrat, said the Senate was moving too fast to pass such a large plan and that more time was needed to give it further consideration.

Sen. Cecil Thomas (D-Cincinnati) said members of the state board of education are elected officials that serve their constituents.

“You’re taking that voice away in terms of the charge and responsibilities that they had. Maybe it wasn’t perfect but they are challenged based on what we give them in terms of a budget,” said Thomas.

Three union-backed candidates won their bid for election to the state board of education in November, which could shift the balance of the board towards more liberal-based policies.

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, has voiced his support for the measure. Other Republican leaders in the House have also suggested they back the changes, but House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) voiced concern that there might not be enough time to pass the bill before the end of the year.

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