In their first meeting since the state budget was approved with sweeping changes to Ohio’s State Board of Education, the group discussed the impacts it will face.
“This is going to be another chapter here and I want to be as proactive and on top of this chapter as I can, and as we can,” said Paul LaRue, president of the board.
Among the billions of dollars and hundreds of things approved by Gov. Mike DeWine last week were the provisions previously contained in Senate Bill 1, which transfer most of the powers away from the board and into the executive branch.
The changes would rename the department overseeing the board to the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce and create a cabinet-level position that would direct the department. Two deputy directors would also be a part of the new department, one for primary and secondary education and another for workforce.
“The board needs to be thinking about in the upcoming months, about what these things look like,” said Chris Woolard, interim superintendent of public instruction.
Woolard’s job will change as well, though he will remain the secretary of the board and serve as the board’s “executive officer,” conducting policy and administrative functions of the board and staff of the board, according to Tony Palmer, chief legal counsel for the ODE.
“Most of the responsibilities that are currently with the superintendent are transferred under the budget bill to the director of the Department of Education and Workforce,” Palmer told the board.
As for the board, it will retain powers related to educator licensure, discipline, teacher evaluation systems, and appointment of the superintendent. They can also make recommendations to the DEW directors regarding priorities for education, according to Palmer.
Several board members wrote to DeWine prior to his signing of the budget to ask him to remove the SB 1 provisions, calling the changing of the roles a “power grab.”
At this week’s board of ed meetings, members continued to criticize the move, questioning the enforcement measures to make sure the new oversight is the right move and truly improves the state of student test scores and education in general.
“What we kept hearing was that they needed to get rid of the state board because somebody was not being held accountable, but they never defined what that meant,” said board member Antoinette Miranda. “I’m just wondering if (the DEW directors) are going to get fired when the scores come back the same.”
Miranda’s fellow board member Diana Fessler claimed Pearson Education, a company who creates student assessment tests, would help with the change “by changing the test questions, and they can change the scores and the cutoff scores besides.”
“I think the kids are going to be doing amazingly well in no time at all,” Fessler said. “But it’ll be a lie from the pit of hell.”
Jessica Voltolini, chief of staff for the ODE, said officials are still reviewing all of the provisions of the budget and the changeover, working on a 180-day timeline: 90 days preparing before the October effective date of the bill, and the 90 days following, when implementation of all of the changes will be made.
But Voltolini said the “very high-level overview” the department has taken so far hasn’t shown any additional level of accountability for the directors, other than that they would need to confirmed by the Ohio Senate.
Teresa Fedor, one of the most recently elected board members and a former state senator, accused the governor of going against a constitutional amendment passed in 1953, in which voters moved the ODE into its own department.
“Not some of it, all of it,” Fedor said. “And (DeWine) is breaking the constitutional intent and message right now, so we need to have clarification on how decisions are going to be made by this group.”
The board may face further changes if just-introduced legislation makes its way through the General Assembly. Former board member, now state Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, R-Ashtabula, introduced a measure this month that would eliminate governor-appointed positions on the board and reduce the group to 15 elected-only positions.
That measure will be assigned to a committee for consideration before it can move for a full vote of the House and Senate.