The body that oversees the curriculum for Ohio’s K-12 students, recommends textbooks, and develops long-term educational plans may not be doing any of those things for long if state legislatures have their way.
“We’re essentially taking most education duties out of the control of the state school board and moving them to the governor’s office,” said Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima.
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Senate Bill 178, scheduled for a hearing Tuesday afternoon, will be rewritten to remove almost everything but the teacher’s license from the Ohio State Board of Education. The composition of the 19-member panel would not change, and it would still elect a state superintendent. But most of the board’s responsibilities would be transferred to a new cabinet position in the governor’s office.
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Huffman told the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau that he has watched the Ohio Department of Education and the state agency flaunt their “dysfunction” for more than a decade, including their recent failure to select a new state commissioner and repeated debates about social Issues that are outside their area of responsibility.
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“Some people might look at this and think, well, we’re doing this because we’re frustrated with this particular action (Critical Race Theory) or Title IX,” Huffman said. “But that’s 15 years of frustration for me… It’s a series of endless discussions about attempts at reform, all blocked by the bureaucracy at ODE.”
The decision comes after the Democrats won the Ohio State Board of Education elections
The decision to move those responsibilities to the governor’s office comes a week after Democrats celebrated election-night victories in three state education board races.
“We couldn’t be prouder to take control of the state school board this year,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairwoman Liz Walters said when speaking to reporters after the midterms.
The 11 elected seats on the board are bipartisan, but local political parties have long backed and supported candidates who “share their values”.
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That year, the Ohio Education Association and Ohio Federation of Teachers helped recruit and fund the campaigns of former Senator Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, Tom Jackson of Solon, and Katie Hofmann of Cincinnati.
Each of them defeated a more conservative opponent, including two incumbent board members.
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OEA President Scott DiMauro said he couldn’t comment specifically on a bill he hasn’t seen, but Conservatives generally support the concept.
“I don’t know why this board exists,” said Aaron Baer, president of the Center for Christian Virtue. “I think there’s probably a lot of other ways to do this… Clearly, whatever function they thought they were doing isn’t working.”
He pointed to all the hours the board has recently spent debating whether to support President Joe Biden’s changes to Title IX.
These changes, which Baer opposes, would expand the federal law’s definition of discrimination to include gender identity and sexual orientation, and potentially cost schools their federal funding for things like banning transgender girls from female athletic teams.
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But the State Board of Education has very little authority in this area. Legislatures decide whether to restrict transgender athletes, and local school boards decide whether to accept or reject federal funding. Essentially, the resolution was more of a general statement of support than actionable changes.
“We’ve all seen the NAEP results. We know what’s happening with kids right now,” Baer said. “There must be a better way.”
Moving board responsibility to the governor’s office is not a new idea. Former Republican Gov. John Kasich attempted to bring state board duties into office in 2018.
Anna Staver is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which oversees the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.