Ohio weighs changes to dozens of school laws

Graduation rules, bus safety, funding among potential action by lawmakers.

Changes have been proposed to dozens of Ohio school laws, ranging from graduation rules to teacher conduct and bus safety, as Ohio’s state legislature works through a busy spring.

Three major items have received heavy attention in the past month — state school funding for the next two years, graduation rules for 2021 and beyond, and state takeover of poorly graded schools.

Academic Distress

Four separate bills currently before the legislature propose changes to the Academic Distress Commission system via which the state “takes over” low-performing local schools to try to improve them. Dayton Public Schools is the only district in Ohio at risk of state takeover this fall, because of continuing poor state test scores.

“I think everybody’s in agreement that (the takeover system) we have now … doesn’t work, but not everybody agrees on what needs to happen next,” said Jennifer Hogue, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association.

RELATED: State takeover law may change, just as Dayton is at risk

House Bill 127 would simply stop the creation of new Academic Distress Commissions, and Hogue said there’s broad support for that bill to be approved while the legislature figures out what to do next.

House Bill 154, which was scheduled for a hearing in the House Education Committee late Tuesday, would dissolve existing ADCs and replace the current takeover approach with a system of poverty-related services and community learning centers. Both OSBA and Ohio’s largest teachers union, the Ohio Education Association, support HB 154.

But Senate Bill 110, which also had a hearing Tuesday, would make smaller tweaks, mainly to improve community input.

Lastly, Hogue said the Ohio Department of Education’s own report on ADCs is currently included “word for word” in the state budget bill.

“We’re trying to figure out what that means,” Hogue said.

Graduation rules

State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria testified before the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, proposing that a new set of graduation requirements go into effect for the Class of 2022.

Students would still have to pass 20 credits and take state exams, but to graduate, they would have both test and non-test options to demonstrate skills in five areas — English, math, technology, other academic subjects and leadership/social development.

EDUCATION: New graduation rules aimed at Class of 2022

For example, a student might meet the English requirement via a state test but meet the math standard via their GPA in school classes, and qualify in their other subjects and leadership via a deep project.

School funding

The Fair School Funding Plan, unveiled last week by Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and John Patterson (D-Jefferson), would increase overall state funding by $700 million over two years. The general approach of the plan drew praise from most parties, but concerns remain over the details that will be hashed out in the next few months.

Former State Rep. Stephen Dyer, who led Ohio’s 2009 school funding plan, said the proposal needs to account for schools’ relative poverty and parents’ education level to level out inequities for high-poverty schools.

EDUCATION: Plan would increase funding for most schools

Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Fordham Institute, worried that the plan doesn’t list dollar amounts for charter and voucher student funding, and could expose those programs to line-item veto someday.

School bus safety

Two proposed laws address drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses. House Bills 83 and 89 are awaiting hearings in the Criminal Justice Committee. HB 89, sponsored by Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., would double the maximum fine in such cases to $1,000 and increase the maximum severity of resulting driver’s license suspensions.

HB 83 would allow police to use camera footage from school buses to identify people who fail to properly stop for buses.

School facilities

Senate Bill 4, which would provide an extra $100 million in state bonds to construct classroom facilities, has already passed the Senate, and Hogue said she believes it will see quick approval in the House as well. Antani’s House Bill 22, which would require the state to study which schools lack air conditioning and other amenities, has had one hearing in committee.

School vouchers

House Bill 122, sponsored by Springfield State Rep. Kyle Koehler, would restructure the state’s private school voucher program, dramatically expanding eligibility. Families up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($100,400 for a family of four) would be eligible for state-paid vouchers to attend private schools, regardless of the quality of their home public school.

RELATED: Access to school vouchers nearly doubles

Voucher amounts would be increased to $5,000 for K-8 schools and $7,500 for high school, with families able to bank any amount over tuition costs to pay for other education expenses, according to a Legislative Service Commission report. Both OSBA and the Ohio Federation of Teachers oppose the bill.

Teacher conduct

Senate Bill 34 would establish that school employees or applicants who were found court-eligible for “intervention in lieu of conviction” for certain sexual or abuse crimes would be automatically denied licensure by the state. The same would apply to people who had been adjudicated for those crimes while they were a juvenile. That bill has had multiple hearings in the Senate Education Committee.

Teacher tax credit

Senate Bill 26 would allow Ohio teachers to deduct up to $250 of unreimbursed expenses per year for training and classroom supplies. Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper said her organization supports the bill but says it’s not the best approach.

“If schools were funded properly, teachers wouldn’t have to spend their own money on this,” she said.

About the Author