State BOE revamp raises issues for local residents

A massive bill that proposes to consolidate the state Department of Education, Department of Higher Education and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation raises disturbing prospects for some Washington County officials.

The bill, House Bill 512, runs 2,430 pages. Printed single-sided on letter-size paper, the document would stand 10 inches high. Much of the bill’s content revises hundreds of existing Ohio Revised Code sections by striking out references to the Department of Education and the Department of Higher Education and replacing them with references to the proposed consolidated agency, the Department of Learning and Achievement.

In references where authorities given to the state superintendent of schools or the chancellor of higher education appear in the current revised code, they are replaced by the director of the Department of Learning and Achievement. Responsibilities of the state board of education are also transferred to the director or the department, including acting on recommendations from the educator standards board, appointing members to board committees and subcommittees, assigning functions to the credential review board and setting educational standards.

The state board will continue to appoint the state superintendent of schools, although many of that position’s functions would be transferred to the director of Learning and Achievement. It would also have the power to evoke charters, issue educator licenses and continue with other administrative functions.

The director, who would inherit much of the power now held by the state chancellor of higher education and the state superintendent of schools, would be appointed by the governor with approval by the senate.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin.

“It’s a monstrosity,” Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said in reference to both its size and intent.

“It transfers a number of entities in a sort of shotgun Frankenstein marriage,” said Thompson, who represents part of the Marietta area. “These entities have their own specific responsibilities. The consolidation argument is that they would gain efficiency, but it’s actually confusing and corrupting their independence.”

Thompson said the bill would continue a group of trends in education he said he finds alarming.

“I’m not a fan of considering education as just training for the workforce,” he said. “I want kids to have that option and understand the possibilities, and the career centers have done a great job of that. But education and the workforce are separate realms.”

The bill takes the domain of public education, Thompson said, further along a trend established by Common Core curriculum, which he described as “a merger between federal and corporate interests, and between the two, we don’t have much say on what’s going on. This is a trip down the path toward the Common Core dream, and it takes us several hundred miles down that track.”

Thompson said that although the bill has strong opposition from both the political right and left in the statehouse, “unfortunately, the odds of it passing are better than we might think, with the Business Roundtable and the state chamber of commerce supporting it.”

“If you haven’t guessed, I’m opposed to it,” he said. “I don’t want the governor to dictate ‘crib-to-career.'”

Stephanie Starcher, superintendent of Fort Frye local schools, said she is concerned about further erosion of local control over schools and the lack of input from students, parents, educators, schools and board members in drafting the legislation.

“I am concerned that this will create such a huge bureaucratic organization that the individual needs of students and school systems will not receive the same level of attention,” she said, and added that the deterioration of authority in the state board of education is also a concern. “If individuals are appointed to such a department, the voice of local districts may be further lost.”

Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn sent his concerns to Ohio Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville.

“There are so many things wrong with this bill I could write about it all day,” Dunn said. “This new, unneeded department would further denigrate the autonomy and influence of K-12 education to the point that we may have no say at all to what happens in our world.”

Dunn also said the proposed new structure mistakes the primary function of public education.

“It sets a tone that all we in K-12 education do is create workers for the workforce. Indeed, that is an important piece to our economic puzzle, but it is by no means all we do or even the most important thing we do,” he said. “We are the organization that teaches our children about the democratic process on which our country is founded. We also teach children how to be good citizens and see things from a broader perspective than their own back yard. We teach kids to be good thinkers so they can help our society continue to thrive not only economically, but thrive in our pursuit of the arts, our governmental process, human rights, and so many other worthy and necessary facets of our human experience.

In introducing the bill, Reineke said: “Education is one of the state’s most important tasks and this legislation aligns our education systems to better prepare our workforce for the needs of today and tomorrow. I look forward to discussing this bill further with the education and workforce community with the goal of working together to ensure that Ohio’s students are ready and prepared for the future.”

Asked for a comment on the bill, Gov. John Kasich’s office replied with a message of support for it.

“We’re encouraged by an effort like this to improve the management and accountability of how the state supports students and frontline educators,” Kasich said through a spokesman.

House Bill 512

¯ Would create the Ohio Department of Learning and Achievement.

¯ New department would include the Department of Education, the Department of Higher Education and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation under a single agency.

¯ Bill sponsor: Rep. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin.

¯ Size of bill: 2,430 pages.

Source: Times research.