Ohio board of education loses most of its powers in state budget

Watch an earlier report on Senate Bill 1 in the video player above.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Months after the last hearing on a bill to restructure the Department of Education, Ohio lawmakers have enshrined the changes into law without voting it out of committee.

Among the thousands of pages in the biennial state budget is the wording from Senate Bill 1, legislation to strip most powers from the State Board of Education and transfer them to a governor-appointed cabinet position. After being voted out of the Senate along party lines in March, the bill last received a House hearing in early May. 

Yet in budget discussions in June, Republicans touted the inclusion of SB1 as necessary to combat bureaucracy-driven inefficiency in the education department. Its sponsor, Sen. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin), said in March that teachers and schools cannot succeed under the board’s “inherently flawed structure,” while others emphasized the robust hearing process the bill underwent – it had nine hearings between the chambers.

“This has had a lot of vetting, a lot of discussion, a lot of public discussion on it, and I think it’s something that’s been needed for a long time,” Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware) said of SB1 when the Senate approved the budget.

Reineke was not available for comment, his office told NBC4.

The bill renames the department to the Department of Education and Workforce, a change corresponding with a greater focus on career technical education and closing in-demand job gaps. It also establishes a governor-appointed director of the department, who must appoint two directors to oversee the Division of Primary and Secondary Education and the Division of Career-Technical Education.

Increasing state focus on career technical education was a bipartisan component of the bill; organizations that testified against the legislation highlighted the workforce prioritization as a much-needed change.

“While we support the elevation of career technical education and opportunities for students, we have significant concerns about the restructuring of the roles of the State Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction included in the bill,” Nicole Piscitani, a lobbyist for the Ohio School Boards Association, testified in late February.

Ohioans approved a constitutional amendment to create the state board and a state superintendent in 1953. The current structure of the Department of Education grants the board power to craft policy affecting primary and secondary education. The board, made of 11 elected members and eight governor appointees, sets academic standards, issues and revokes educator licenses, administers state funds to school districts, and sets guidelines for educating disabled students.

Most of those powers would fall under the department’s newly established director. The board maintains some authority, including the authority to grant licenses, oversee licensee disciplinary actions and approve school district territory transfers. 

In April, the state board approved a resolution asking the General Assembly to consider improving the education system in other ways, like boosting communication between the board and lawmakers so policy can be implemented swiftly. Two months before, Katie Hofmann, representing Hamilton and Warren counties on the board, submitted testimony urging legislators to remember why the state board was created – to give citizens a direct voice in the education department.

“If this committee wants to change the will of the people, then let the people decide,” Hofmann, who did not respond to a request for comment, wrote. “Put it on the ballot and see what voters think of your plan to remove the powers given to the State School Board and the ODE by the Ohio Constitution.”