CLEVELAND, Ohio – The state school board should not be taking votes about a bill that would change the entire state education bureaucracy, Rep. Bill Reineke, the bill’s sponsor, said Wednesday.
Reineke, a Tiffin Republican, blasted Tuesday’s vote by the board to oppose the bill as a “self-serving” attempt to ” interfere in the internal deliberations of the Legislature.”
He also questioned the board’s motives in opposing the bill.
“The board is concerned that its duties would be taken away,” he wrote in a response to the board’s vote, adding, “The state board is aiming to thwart an initiative that has the potential to help fix our broken education system.”
House Bill 512 would merge the state education, higher education and workforce departments into one, with the stated goal of streamlining efforts to better prepare students for jobs. The bill would also shift 80 percent of the power of the partially-elected state school board to an appointee of the governor.
Reineke and other supporters have pointed to Ohio’s growing mismatch in the skills of Ohio high school graduates to what employers seek as a call to overhaul education in the state. They have also pointed to large numbers of graduates needing remedial classes once they go to college as further evidence of a system that needs to be changed.
In a conversation with The Plain Dealer today, he questioned why the state should protect this system instead of moving to another structure.
The bill picked up support of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
“This should result in Ohio’s education and talent development systems being more agile, efective and accountable,” the chamber’s Keith Lake told a House committee debating the bill.
But state board members and others have opposed the plan. The board on Tuesday voted 11-4 against the bill, saying the new “mega-agency” would be less open to public input and scrutiny and would violate the spirit of the 1953 state constititutional amendment creating the board.
Board members have also told the House committee that the bill would remove the board from setting detailed rules for carrying out broader laws the legislature passes. The public hearings the board has now would vanish, they said.
Board member Lisa Woods of Medina told House committee Wednesday that the board is needed as a check and balance. An appointee could declare policies the political right hates – like transgender bathrooms, providing needles in the name of safer drug use, and giving Planned parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union a strong voice – all without any debate.
Policies the poilitical left would hate – like abstinence-only sex education, creation studies or the NRA leading school safety discussions – would never have hearings either.
“These are hot-button and extreme examples,” Woods said. “But they highlight the power that this department would have.”
Reineke fired back in a written response late Wednesday.
“The fact that taxpayer dollars are being used self-servingly to interfere in the internal deliberations of the Legislature about the board’s respective duties and role is exactly why House Bill 512 is necessary,” he added.
He also took issue with comments from board members that they can represent the voice of the people more than the legislature on education issues. House members represent about 120,000 people each and Senate members 330,000, he wrote, while state board members have about a million people in each of their districts.
“Therefore, it is my opinion that the legislature is much closer to the people and are better able to respond to their needs and concerns,” he wrote.
Reineke declined to directly answer another objection to the bill that critics have raised – that Gov. John Kasich has skipped taking steps to improve the communication between departments that Reineke seeks with the bill.
– Not appointing the state superintendent to the governor’s own workforce board
– Not picking workforce experts for the eight school board seats the governor is allowed to appoint
– Apparently never meeting with State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria. Neither DeMaria nor Kasich staff would say this week if they have ever met, though each said DeMaria attends meetings of Kasich’s cabinet.
Reineke first directed questions about Kasich, whose term will end at the end of this year, to House Republican spokespeople. He then tried to deflect them back toward the bill and its goals.
His most direct response: “I think we move forward and this is going to take place under the next governor.”