Ohio Senate again introduces bill to change oversight of K-12 schools

Effort aims to strip power from state school board, move education roles under governor’s office

A bill changing the way K-12 education is administered at the state level in Ohio has been introduced into the new Ohio Senate, less than a month after the last session rejected it.

The new Senate Bill 1 is similar to Senate Bill 178 from last year, which failed to get legislative approval in the final weeks of the lame duck session in December. Both bills would reorganize the Ohio Department of Education into the renamed Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) and transfer most of the powers and duties of the State Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction into that new department.

State Sen. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, said proposing the idea again would help his district in northwestern Ohio, which has many factories needing to fill skilled jobs. After he went to ODE on the subject, Reineke said he found there wasn’t a lot of work being done on career technology.

The Ohio Department of Education has a dedicated department for Career Technical Education, which oversees detailed educational programs in 16 career fields, each with a course structure for students to follow. In recent years, Ohio has pushed the beginnings of career education earlier in the K-12 framework.

Reineke said he was also concerned about the many students who need remediation in school.

“It’s driven by the needs of the workforce, and it’s driven by, we’ve got to help students find their purpose early on,” Reineke said.

The governor of Ohio would also have the authority to name a cabinet-level education director who would be responsible for administrative rules. The state superintendent would be an advisor to the director.

However, the new bill omits the most controversial parts of the amended SB 178 that died last year, involving banning transgender women from participating in women’s sports and creating protections for public school students who did not receive vaccines.

Currently, the state superintendent of public instruction oversees the Ohio Department of Education and is hired by the state board of education, which is made up of a mixture of elected officials and appointees from the governor’s office. The state board of education is required under the Ohio Constitution to pick a superintendent of public instruction.

State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said in a State Board of Education meeting on Tuesday that the board hasn’t been meeting that mandate. The bill would also not allow anyone to be named as an interim for more than 45 days.

“You’ve got to have somebody lead the Department of Education who doesn’t have the title interim in front of them, because interim is the placeholder,” Brenner said.

The state has been without a permanent state superintendent since former state superintendent Paolo DeMaria left in September 2021. In May, the state hired Steve Dackin as the state superintendent, but he resigned after only a few weeks on the job after controversy about how he was hired, with accusations of ethics violations.

Stephanie Siddens served as interim superintendent after DeMaria left and returned to the role after Dackin left.

“At this point, our big concern is that there’s a lot of things that are trying to get implemented that just aren’t, things are delayed,” Brenner said.

Democrats have questioned the Republican members who have been proposing the bill since last year when it was introduced. State Sen. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood) said the caucus’ opposition to Senate Bill 178 was well known.

“Such a wide-reaching bill warranted extensive time and consideration, which was not possible in the final weeks of lame duck,” Antonio said. “My understanding is that Senate Bill 1 is a similar bill, so I am still concerned about its potential impacts. Our caucus looks forward to reviewing the changes, hearing public testimony and providing input as the bill moves through the legislative process.”

Reporter Samantha Wildow contributed to this story.

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