Lawmakers eye temporary halt to school takeovers, pending new bill

The leaders of Ohio’s House and Senate said Wednesday that a temporary moratorium on new state takeovers of schools could be put in place this week to give the legislature more time to construct a new intervention for low-scoring schools.

The issue is currently under consideration by a conference committee of House and Senate legislators trying to reconcile differences between the two chambers’ budget bills. The House version would repeal Ohio’s takeover structure, while the Senate punted its proposed new takeover system, leaving the Academic Distress Commission model as-is, despite widespread agreement that changes are needed.

THIS WEEK: Dayton schools await decision on takeover law

Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said Wednesday that legislative leaders haven’t decided yet which path of change is best, and the budget bill must be finalized by Sunday. Obhof said a moratorium on new takeovers could happen if conference committee fixes aren’t agreed to in the coming days.

Speaker of the House Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said he would prefer a moratorium on takeovers to give lawmakers time to work on a stand-alone bill outside the state budget process. Senate Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, had raised that possibility last week.

Under the current law, Dayton Public Schools is the only district in the state that is at risk of takeover if its overall report card grade is an “F” again in September. Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland schools already operate under Academic Distress Commissions.

EARLIER: Senate weighs new school takeover proposal

“We want local control over our own district,” said Mohamed al-Hamdani, a Dayton school board member since 2018.

Asking a board to turn around a struggling school in just one year is like turning around the Titanic, he said. Rather than state control, he said Dayton and other high-poverty districts need state funding for non-academic supports such as health services and school counselors.

Al-Hamdani spoke at an event Wednesday in Columbus, led by state Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo. Al-Hamdani said state leaders have been working on the takeover changes with little local school district involvement.

“We would love to be part of the conversation,” he said.

DPS Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli and school board President William Harris are among dozens of public school leaders who testified before the Senate Education Committee on the takeover debate in the past month.

MARCH: Variety of state leaders criticize school takeover law

On Wednesday, representatives from the Youngstown, Lorain, Toledo, Columbus, Canton and Dayton school districts joined Fedor and others to urge passage of a two-year state budget featuring the House’s repeal language. That bill, passed with strong bipartisan support, called for the lowest-performing districts to build improvement plans themselves after detailed performance audits.

The plan that the Senate considered, then dropped, was a tweaked takeover process requiring a consultant and a transformation board to first work with local school leaders to research “root causes” of academic struggles, then attack those issues.

In the existing system, a school district that meets the criteria for three straight overall F’s on the state report card is taken over by an Academic Distress Commission. The state superintendent picks the majority of that group, and those members then choose a CEO who is given broad powers to reshape the district. A wide range of groups have criticized that system for undermining local involvement in schools.

2018: Dayton schools misunderstood takeover timeline