It seems that every Republican MP is sponsoring a bill on education in this General Assembly.
From expanding school vouchers to posting curricula online and limiting how counties can raise local dollars, the Ohio Legislature is overwhelmed with ideas for education reform.
Taken separately, some bills seem small, gradual refinements. But together they represent a fundamental overhaul of Ohio’s public education system.
“If you look at all of these bills together, I think it creates a really clear picture of what is happening to the attack on public education,” said Ohio Teachers Federation President Melissa Cropper. “The right wing is trying to divide us and pass bills to create a cultural war.”
But Chad Aldis, a supporter of school choice and vice president of the Fordham Foundation in Ohio, says many of these bills are just test balls or the beginning of a conversation: interesting, but ultimately unlikely to pass.
“I don’t think there is much money for this until a new General Assembly is held in January next year,” Aldis said. “There doesn’t seem to be anything to do with education in any of the wards.”
Here are eight of the proposed changes and what they will do.
The biggest potential change lurking in the legislature is the “backpack bill.” If handed in, each school-age child will be eligible for a $ 5,500 voucher (K-8 grade) or $ 7,500 (grade 9-12).
Parents could spend these dollars on private schooling, home school supplies, in-depth testing, or educational therapy.
“HB 290 will create real money in line with the children’s approach to education funding,” said the bill’s sponsor, MP Riardon McClain, R-Upper Sandusky, when he unveiled the idea in October.
The first hearing of the bill took place in February, and one of the most important questions was how much it could cost Ohio.
“I can’t imagine a fiscal bill of less than $ 1 billion if you’re going to give all current private and home school students a voucher,” Aldis said.
And that is what worries many Democrats and supporters of public schools.
Ohio has no $ 1 billion in its budget. Also, the state cannot waste this money from its education funds without making serious cuts.
“It’s about providing study grants to people who have already decided not to go to public school,” said Steve Dyer, director of public relations for the Ohio State Education Association.
One of the biggest problems in education over the past year has been the debate over how racism, slavery and other “separating concepts” are taught in schools.
Proponents believe that the set of rules that define the parameters of these discussions will protect the “accurate” teaching of American history and will not allow teachers to impose “dangerous” and “divisive” ideologies on students. Opponents say the laws are designed to “whitewash” history, intimidate teachers and prevent children from participating in the political process.
Lawmakers also did not vote, but House 327 had five committee hearings and several amendments. Sponsors say they are working hard to find consensus around a language that can pass.
Posting Curricula Online (Bill 529)
Republican MP Brett Hiller suggested a way to “soften” the hot rhetoric around “disconnected concepts” by requiring teachers to post their curricula online.
“I don’t need to delve into the details of what is being taught,” Hiller said, introducing the idea in January. “I can just say, ‘Hey, let’s make it accessible to parents.’
The Tuscaravas Republican Republican also did not think his plan would create additional work for educators. Ohio law already requires schools to provide course materials upon request.
But Heather Stambo, a history teacher from the local Greenon County School District, said it was not so much a job as a message.
“It’s a subtext, ‘Look, they’re hiding something,'” she said.
Ohio has joined the international debate on how transgender athletes compete in high school and college sports by passing two bills last year.
Both laws were fairly simple: transgender girls could not play in women’s sports teams. And schools may face civil lawsuits for knowingly breaking the rules.
Sponsors said it was about justice, but LGBTQ supporters called it discrimination.
The House of Representatives bill 61 has not been considered since June 2021. Jenna Powell’s MP, R-Arcanum, tried to attach the idea to another piece of legislation shortly after that second hearing, but to no avail.
As for Bill 132 of the Senate, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, called it a priority for the fall of 2021, but the bill – and many others – quickly receded into the background before redistribution.
None of the bills received a vote.
Increasing the amount of school vouchers and the right to receive (Bill 110)
One of the changes that has already become law during this General Assembly is the expansion of EdChoice Ohio scholarship programs.
When the state’s two-year budget was adopted in June, it included about $ 1,000 extra for each voucher recipient. Scholarship amounts were $ 5,500 for K-8 and $ 7,500 per year for high school students.
The budget also directly funded school vouchers instead of asking local districts to pay private schools, and this tied future increases to the school funding formula. This means that EdChoice amounts will increase if the base cost per public school student grows.
Aldis was pleased with all these changes, saying they are helping parents make better choices for their children’s education. But Cropper called increasing scholarships another way to cut funding for public schools.
Exclude appointed members of the State Council for Education (Bill 298 of the House of Representatives)
The Ohio State Board of Education sets curriculum standards for public schools, revokes licenses for disgraced teachers, and helps create a broader area of education.
And the council consists of 19 members, but only 11 are elected. The remaining eight are appointed by the governor.
Bill 298 would eliminate these appointments and reduce the council to 11 members.
“There is no standard of responsibility here,” said spokesman Adam Byrd, R-New Richmond. “There are no voters in the homeland to answer to.”
Public school attorneys have largely remained neutral on the bill, but the Ohio School Board Association has spoken out in favor of the changes.
However, some Democrats are worried that this is another way to make the State Council more ideologically conservative.
Seven appointed members voted in favor of the anti-racism resolution back in the summer of 2020, and two of them refused to repeal it after it became a lightning rod for conservatives across the state.
Gov. Mike Devine asked the two appointed members to resign in October.
Bill 298 has passed three hearings in committee, but none since October 2021.
Limiting the role of school districts in local development (Bill 123)
If local authorities want to attract new business to the city, they can create an area for community investment.
These areas are exempt from property taxes for a certain period of time and they can be designated for residential, commercial or industrial development projects.
Schools traditionally object if tax breaks cost them more than 50%. Bill 123 will raise this threshold to 75% loss.
And if an agreement cannot be reached, the bill increases the amount of wages for new employees that the company must create before the local municipality has to make annual payments to the district.
Republican MP Mark Fraser says these and other changes will simplify what he sees as an overly bureaucratic process that has “unnecessary consequences and constraints on economic and labor development.”
But Guillermo Berwehilla, a member of Ohio’s Policy Matters, said the bill prioritizes “hypothetical outside investors over Ohio’s flesh and blood children.”
“This bill will encourage reckless investment while limiting the ability of local school boards to have their say in decisions that affect school revenues,” he added.
HB 123 passed the House of Representatives in May 2021 and recently held its third Senate hearing.
Audit Board (Bill 126)
Ohio is one of several states that allow public school districts to legally challenge the value of any home or plot in their area.
Republicans believe the practice is out of control. Districts hire lawyers and squeeze homeowners out to get more money.
But state school districts, such as Columbus, say businesses regularly use loopholes in the code that allow them to avoid paying property taxes; they argue that these cases ensure that everyone pays their fair share.
However, it is not so much about money for teachers as Stambaukh. The point is that she sends to areas like hers where there is not enough money for simple things.
“We haven’t bought history textbooks in almost ten years,” Stambo said. “These are the real problems that education faces.”
Bill 126 of the House of Representatives has been passed by both houses, but changes to the Senate have yet to be approved by the House of Representatives.
Anna Staver is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Inquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations in Ohio.