Ohio lawmakers seek to cut state Board of Education from 19 to 11 members, after resolution on race and fairness

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – A bill at Ohio House seeks to eliminate the eight members of the State Board of Education who are appointed by the governor, leaving 11 members elected.

House Bill 298 has Republican and Democratic sponsors who say legislation is needed to create a council accountable to the voters who elect them, and to end alleged political influence over education by the governor’s office.

However, the bill comes a year after the board passed an anti-racism and fairness resolution that remains controversial, especially among some elected board members.

“This environment changes from president to president, and in July 2020, the State Board of Education was able to pass a very important resolution condemning hatred and racism and advancing equity and opportunity for children, by especially children of color, ”said Meryl Johnson, an elected member of the Cleveland School Board. “It was the appointed members who helped push this through 12 to 5, with one abstention. I really believe that if we had not brought this resolution forward, this matter would not be going through the Legislature at this time. “

However, Representative Joe Miller, an Amherst Democrat, said he was sponsoring the bill because he believed some former governors had too much influence on the board through their people. named.

For example, Miller said that John Kasich, the former GOP governor, was in favor of transferring money to charter schools, including the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a now closed electronic charter school that owes dozens. millions of dollars to the state for allegedly not educating properly. His students.

Miller noted that it is the state school board, not the governor or the legislature, that chooses the superintendent of public education in Ohio. And many governors try to influence who becomes state superintendent by influencing who sits on the board, he said.

In recent years, elected members of the National Board of Education have been more to the right than appointed members. For example, elected board member Kirsten Hill, who repeated the false story that there had been major fraud in the 2020 presidential election, attended the January 6 protests at the U.S. Capitol. United and is listed as an organizer of a bus from Lorain County to Washington. participate in demonstrations. She says she stayed outside the building.

Still, Miller said it’s best if people are elected to the board. When 42% of board members are appointed, it is difficult to attract candidates to the school board to run for office, he said.

“We have to move forward and support the right candidates,” he said. “I think we kind of failed to do it – we as Ohioans, we as public educators, advocates of education. And I think that’s partly because not many people are going to sign up for a job that they feel they have no influence to do.

Miller said he would be prepared to increase the number of elected members, if his colleagues in the legislature wanted a larger elected council.

Under HB 298, the seats will be eliminated when a current candidate’s term is over, said Rep. Adam Bird, a Republican from southwest Ohio, who noted in his testimony before a committee that the draft law had 41 bipartite co-sponsors.

A 1953 constitutional amendment created the State Board of Education, and at the time all members were elected. In 1995, a provision in a state budget bill allowed former Governor George Voinovich to appoint eight members.

Legislators in 2000 passed separate legislation authorizing appointed members. Bird said they fear lawsuits over nominations permitted by a budget bill could oust those board members.

“This bill is not about partisanship, it is not about politics, it is not personal – it is only about principles and the defense of the right of the people to vote for fair representation when they are ‘This is the board of directors that makes decisions about Ohio’s education policy, “Bird says. “It’s about making sure our citizens’ voices are heard, loud and clear. “

Eric Poklar, an appointed board member whose second term expires in 2024, said he did not want to assign a motive to the bill. But he said he sees no difference between the dedication to education of appointed members and that of elected members.

“The composition of the Education Council is set by law and it is the right and responsibility of the legislator to review this law if it wishes,” he said.

Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio Teachers Federation, and the Ohio Education Association have not taken a formal position on the bill. They each continue to watch him.

The anti-racism and fairness resolution continues to bother conservative board members.

The three-page resolution, adopted after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, contains many provisions: that racism, hatred and bigotry have no place in schools; that the State Board of Education provide training on implicit bias for employees and contractors of the Ohio Department of Education; that departmental employees make recommendations to the State Council to eliminate prejudice and racism in academic standards and model state curricula; that the ministry support school districts thinking and reviewing unequal treatment in hiring, staff development, student discipline and other operations; among other directives.

Recently, some school board members asked Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, to comment on the resolution’s compliance with federal and state law and whether the board has the power to l ‘adopt. They also said that parts of the resolution are similar to Critical Race Theory.

Critical Race Theory, which is studied at the university level but not in K-12 schools, views racism as a systematic problem – rather than the actions of a few individuals – that began centuries ago and continues under many forms today. Some Republicans dismiss it as divisive, unfair and false. The theory has divided communities in Ohio and across the country.

Yost’s legal analysis did not oppose most anti-racism and fairness resolutions except for the requirement that Ohio Department of Education contractors undergo training implied about prejudices. He said educational standards based on critical race theory would be illegal.

Meryl Johnson, a Cleveland school board member who believes HB 298 is about the anti-racism and fairness resolution, said before she came to the state school board she believed school boards should be elected. But now she is grateful to the appointed members.

“I’ve been on the board for four years, and it never happened,” she said. “It only came to light after we passed this resolution.”


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