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'The current structure is failing our kids': Lawmakers look to overhaul Ohio Department of Education

Opponents of the bill to improve test scores and reduce truancy lacks details.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Senate Bill 1 was introduce Tuesday in the Senate Education Committee. The bill aims to correct what supporters say is an education system that is failing kids.

“We've got systemic problems that need to be corrected,” said State Senator Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware).

Supporters of the bill point to several problems that they say current ODE members have failed to address over the past two years.

“Last year nearly a third of students were chronically absent including almost half of all African-American students in the state," said bill sponsor State Senator Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin).

But opponents of the bill caution that SB1 lacks very few specifics on how it would correct the problems in Ohio schools. They say by creating a cabinet position of education under the power of the governor, it not only politicizes education but also strips parents of having an advocate on the board they can turn to when they have issues about what’s being taught in their school district.

“If control over standards, curriculum, education policy all of those pieces are moved into the governor’s office, then a parent will no longer have that direct line of access to policy makers," said Melissa Cropper, President Ohio Federation of Teachers.

Senator Brenner, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, did not see that as an issue.

“The governor is accountable to the public. He's also accountable to the legislature, so there is accountability there. If there are problems they (the public) can put pressure on the cabinet level person or the governor to improve our schools and get these kids caught up,” he said.

SB1 would do away with the Ohio Department of Education and rename it to the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce. The makeup and size of the board won't change. 

It will keep 19 members, with 11 elected and eight appointed by the governor with the approval of the Ohio Senate.

“It will consist of two divisions, primary and secondary education and the division of career tech,” Reineke said.

Senator Reineke argued ODE has failed Ohio’s children by not addressing issues like falling math and reading scores as well as truancy.

Professor Antoinette Miranda says the bill lacks specifics about how it will improve test scores or reduce truancy.

“If you press them on what this is going to look like at the state level and at the governor's office, they can't and to me that's really scary,” she said.

Miranda said SB1 could also impact the pool of candidates who are applying to be the next superintendent since their power will be reduced.

“Someone could be applying for a job that could look very different once Senate Bill 1 passes so that may hurt our pool,” she says.

House Minority leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said, “It comes to no one’s surprise that SB 1 is where the Senate is starting. I look forward to the scrutiny this legislation deserves and to hearing from the education community on how it would impact Ohio’s academic outcomes. We all agree preparing Ohio’s children for the future is a key factor to ensuring continued growth for this state. It just needs to be done responsibly with the input of educators and with the student’s best interests in mind.”

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