On Friday, two members of the Ohio State Board of Education, including the board’s elected president, were forced to resign because the all-powerful president of the Ohio Senate opposed their vote to retain an anti-racism resolution passed by the state board last year following George Floyd’s murder and not to retract that resolution.
The two who were forced to resign were in the minority when the state board voted in October to replace last year’s Resolution 20. Here is how, yesterday, the Plain Dealer‘s editorial board summarized the original Resolution 20: “The resolution… condemned ‘in the strongest possible terms, white supremacy culture, hate speech, hate crimes and violence in the service of hatred’ and said the board itself would work to ‘engage our members in open and courageous conversations on racism and inequity’ while offering training ‘to identify our own biases.’ The resolution directed the Ohio Department of Education to examine curriculum and standards to see if any changes were needed to ‘eliminate bias’ and ensure accuracy, and to encourage and support school districts, parents and communities in examining their own practices.'”
In the recently passed replacement Resolution 13, the Ohio State Board of Education simply condemns any teachings that seek to divide and pledges “to promote academic excellence without prejudice or respect to race, ethnicity or creed.”
On Friday, Laura Hancock’s coverage of the resignation of State Board President Laura Kohler made the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s print edition front page, above the fold. The story is important for several reasons. It definitely speaks to the current furor about how the social studies curriculum in Ohio’s schools treats the history of slavery and whether and how to help students understand the role of racism in our history and in our civic and personal lives today.
But Hancock’s story also exposes Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman’s consolidation of power in Columbus. In the new state budget passed in June, Huffman led the legislature to undermine key parts of a new public school funding formula and at the same time to expand the funding for and the availability of private school tuition vouchers and also to increase the state’s investment of tax dollars in charter schools. Huffman is a strong supporter of the expansion of all kinds of privatization of the public schools.
The 19 member Ohio State Board of Education includes 11 elected members from across the state and 8 members appointed by the Governor. Huffman cannot, of course, dictate to the state board of education’s elected members who are responsible to their constituents. But it is apparent that he now controls the appointed members.
Four of the state board’s members were recently appointed by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, and Laura Kohler, originally appointed by Governor John Kasich in 2017, had recently been re-appointed to a second term by Governor DeWine. Huffman points out that state law gives the Ohio Senate the power of “advise and consent” over the Governor’s appointments, though that power is rarely used. The Columbus Dispatch’s Anna Staver explains how Huffman recently seized this provision to control the replacement of the anti-racism Resolution 20 with the much more banal Resolution 13:
“Huffman and Republican Sen. Andrew Brenner (who chairs the Senate education committee) started interviewing the governor’s appointees to the state board. That included Kohler, of New Albany; Steve Dacklin, of Columbus; Martha Manchester, of Lakeview; Eric Poklar, of Worthington, and Timothy Miller, of Akron. The Senate has had the option to ‘advise and consent’ on the governor’s appointments to various boards, but it’s not a power they’ve exercised a lot in the past. It’s a bit of a weird system, Huffman said. Appointees start working before the Senate ever decides if they’re qualified. And if the senators never vote, the appointee simply serves out his or her term. ‘You can get burned that way…, ‘ Huffman said. ‘And I thought we ought to have some process, especially in these high level positions.’ So, he and Brenner started interviewing the state board of education nominees.”
Staver describes how Kohler understood the meaning of her interview with Huffman and Brenner prior to the State Board’s vote to rescind Resolution 20: “Kohler said no one ever told her to repeal the resolution or she’d lose her job, ‘but it was apparent that neither of the senators was supportive of the resolution.'”
The Plain Dealer‘s Hancock published a follow-up to announce the forced resignation (also on Friday) of a second appointed member of the State Board of Education, Eric Poklar. Poklar joined Kohler and a minority of the State Board to vote for keeping last year’s anti-racism resolution instead of passing the newer Proposition 13. Clearly Poklar’s vote, like Kohler’s along with his earlier interview with Huffman doomed his recent appointment by the governor to the Ohio State Board of Education. Hancock adds that, “Earlier this week, the Ohio Senate confirmed the appointments of three State Board of Education appointees who had voted to rescind the anti-racism resolution: Steve Daklin… Martha Manchester… and J. Timothy Miller….”
In her original front page report for the Plain Dealer, Hancock describes how Senator Matt Huffman described the meetings with the new appointees of the State Board of Education. The word “threat” never appears, of course, but it is clear that the “advise and consent” interviews with appointed board members who were scheduled to vote on whether to rescind a controversial resolution very likely clarified how each member was supposed to vote if he or she wanted to remain on the job: “He said they talked about the anti-racism resolution… He also said he talked with them about the operations at the Ohio Department of Education. He said he regularly hears form local school officials who are dissatisfied with the department. ‘We talked about school choice and school funding and the operation of the Ohio Department of Education.'”
The conversations about the Ohio Department of Education are significant to another important matter. In Ohio, the state board of education is responsible for appointing the state superintendent of public instruction. Hancock explains how Laura Kohler, in her resignation statement, describes the implications of Huffman’s recent action: “Kohler said that she hopes with her resignation that the legislature won’t interfere in the work of the Ohio State Board of Education. However, the board has been looking for a new state superintendent of public instruction since Paolo DeMaria retired in September. ‘I think that the board is going to have to remain vigilant,’ she said. ‘There are some issues that will have great interest to members of the legislature, including the appointment of a new superintendent of public education. I have always strived to promote a partnership between the legislative branch and the board and the executive branch and the board. My hope is that the partnership will continue with everyone in every role respecting the role that the others have to play.'”
It would be much better for Ohio if Senate President Matt Huffman also had respect for the separate roles of the legislature, the governor and the state board of education and for respectful collaboration.