In its legislative update last Friday, Honesty for Ohio Education reported: “It was an appalling and heartbreaking week in the Statehouse as Ohio legislators passed two bills to arm school personnel and ban transgender girls in female sports, and held hearings for bills censoring education about race, sexuality, and gender and banning gender-affirming healthcare for minors.”
The Plain Dealer‘s Laura Hancock explains how, without a hearing, the House banned transgender girls from female sports when legislators added the amendment to another bill: “The Ohio House passed a bill shortly before midnight Wednesday, the first day of Pride Month, with an amendment to ban transgender girls and women from playing high school and college women’s sports… As originally introduced, HB 151 would change the Ohio Resident Educator Program, which assists new teachers with mentoring and professional development as they begin their careers… But on the Ohio House floor late Wednesday night, Rep. Jena Powell, a Darke County Republican, offered an amendment to the bill, which a majority of the house accepted…. House Bill 151 passed 56 to 28 with Democrats voting in opposition. It now heads to the Ohio Senate, which is in summer recess and won’t return until the fall.”
A big part of our problem in Ohio is a long run of gerrymandering—leaving both chambers of our state legislature with huge Republican supermajorities. A committee of legislators from House and Senate were charged to create fair and balanced legislative district maps. The Ohio Redistricting Commission spent the winter and spring redrawing the maps, which were rejected five times by the Ohio Supreme Court because a Court majority found the new maps gerrymandered to favor the election of Republicans. At the end of May, however, a federal district court ruled that the state must end the battle over gerrymandering by using maps—for this year’s August primary and the November general election—which were rejected twice in the spring by the state’s supreme court because they favor Republican candidates.
Citizens in a democracy are not supposed to be utterly powerless, but that is how it feels right now in Ohio.
In the Ohio legislature, the bill that shut transgender girls out of school sports is not the only piece of legislation into which our legislators added provisions that will hurt public schools. Last week, the Ohio House concurred with a Senate version of House Bill 583, a bill filled with lots of miscellaneous education provisions. But in its version, passed in late May, the Senate had also embedded several amendments to expand vouchers and charter schools and thereby reduce state funds for public schools.
If you look at the Ohio Legislative Service Commission’s bill analysis of HB 583, you will see that the House Bill’s original focus was to address the shortage of substitute teachers, which has been acute during and following school disruption of COVID-19. Later in the extensive list of subjects are the establishment of a tutoring and remedial education program, adjustments to dyslexia screening, licensure procedures for licensed practical nurses, and alternative resident educator licensure.
But the bottom half of the first page, all of the second page, and half of the third page of the summary are about state scholarship and educational savings programs and community schools. The language the legislature is using here is idiosyncratic to Ohio and not at all transparent to anyone outside our state.
- Scholarship and educational savings programs are—in Ohio speak—the allocation of tax dollars for private school tuition vouchers and the allocation of tax dollars for education savings account vouchers to pay for (in this bill) after school programs.
- Community Schools—in Ohio speak—are privately operated charter schools paid for with state tax dollars.
If Governor Mike DeWine signs Ohio House Bill 583, one important change will be to expand eligibility for Ohio’s EdChoice Expansion vouchers, which are income-based. Currently to qualify for a first-time EdChoice Expansion private school tuition voucher, a student must live in a household with income at or below 250% of the federal poverty level (FPL). The Legislative Service Commission explains what will happen under the new law: “Under current law, the amount of that scholarship in subsequent school years is subject to progressive proration if the family income rises above 250% FPL. If a recipient’s family income rises above 400% FPL, the recipient loses eligibility to renew that scholarship. The new bill eliminates the progressive proration of a scholarship amount and the disqualification of a recipient to renew a scholarship based on rising family income.” It appears that even if a student’s family’s income rises above 400% of the federal poverty level, the student would remain eligible to renew the voucher to subsidize private school tuition.
According to the Legislative Service Commission analysis, House Bill 583 will also make a private school outside the geographic Cleveland boundary eligible to accept students carrying a voucher from the Cleveland Scholarship Program. Remember that in Ohio speak, a scholarship is a private school tuition voucher.
The Legislative Service Commission Analysis also describes House Bill 583’s expansion of charter schools and changes in regulations affecting charter school sponsors. The bill approves funding for a new “remote learning community school.” To translate from Ohio speak: that sentence means that the state will fund a new online charter school.
Finally there are several provisions to reduce oversight of Ohio’s notoriously large number of charter school sponsors—many known to be weak and many far away geographically from the schools they sponsor. One provision of House Bill 583 will establish “a safe harbor from penalties and sanction for community (charter) school sponsors based on sponsor ratings issued for the 2021-2022 school year.” And House Bill 583 will permit “a low-performing community (charter) school, for the 2022-2023 school year only, to enter into a contract with a new sponsor without the Department’s approval.” The practice of sponsor hopping is well known in Ohio when a sponsor threatens to shut down an academically under-performing charter school.
Right now in Ohio, legislators are considering culture war bills not only on transgender rights and arming teachers, but also bills banning discussion of racial justice, proposals to ban books, and a “don’t say gay” bill. But the very operation of the state’s public schools is also at stake when legislators demonstrate their commitment to expanding publicly funded school privatization at the expense of the public schools by surreptitiously inserting school privatization measures into a bill originally designed to help ease the shortage of public school substitute teachers following the pandemic.
Governor DeWine should definitely not sign HB 583 and thereby further undermine Ohio’s capacity to fund our state’s 610 public school districts which serve 1.8 million students.
In a new report, Public Schooling in America: Measuring Each State’s Commitment to Democratically Governed Schools, the Network for Public Education grades the 50 states and the District of Columbia on their commitment to privatized marketplace school choice at the expense of their public school districts: “Not only do we grade the states based on their willingness to commit exclusively or primarily to democratically governed public schools open to all, but their willingness to put sufficient guardrails and limits on publicly-funded alternatives to ensure that taxpayers, students, and families are protected from discrimination, corruption and fraud in the programs they have.”
The Network for Public Education ranks Ohio third from the bottom in its support for the state’s public schools—ahead of only Florida and Arizona.