COLUMBUS — Two state representatives introduced legislation Friday to block the state from taking over additional local school districts as outlined in state House Bill 70.
Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, and Kent Smith, D-Euclid, brought forward the proposed moratorium following the state takeovers of the Lorain and Youngstown school districts, where “the heavy-handed approach has failed to produce any meaningful improvements or results,” according to a news release.
Smith said there are school districts in the area he represents that are in danger of a state takeover under the provisions of House Bill 70, which strips virtually all power from the superintendent and elected school board and places it with a state-appointed CEO.
“I don’t think House Bill 70 has led to better outcomes for students in Ohio,” he said. “And myself and Representative Fedor believe that every student has the ability and capacity to change the world but we need to also be cognizant of what they’re facing.”
Smith cited a study from the Thomas Fordham Institute that said about 51 percent of students in Ohio are economically disadvantaged, most of whom reside in districts that receive low scores on state report cards.
Those state report card grades are what determines if a district is in “academic distress” and starts the process for a state takeover. The proposed moratorium would stop these takeovers until 2021.
“The scores directly mirror the district’s household income, so how is that fair?” he said. “How we deal with education in Ohio is so screwed up. It’s a three-prong approach — underfund, criticize and privatize. All education bills in Ohio are probably doing one of those three, and House Bill 70 is no different.”
Smith said the legislation he and Fedor proposed would not address the situations in Youngstown and Lorain, but they hope to circle back to that at a later date.
Lorain School Board President Tony Dimacchia said he was disappointed the legislation doesn’t help Lorain and Youngstown as the children in “these two communities are just as important.”
“I think it is about time that legislators are attempting to fight back against this social injustice of a bill,” he said. “Someone needs to step up and fix the enormous mess the state has created here.”
State Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, said he would not be attaching his name to the legislation until it creates provisions for Lorain and Youngstown but he would vote for it.
“It’s a fine thing,” he said. “(House Bill 70) never should have passed in the first place. This won’t be the end of the state takeovers though unless something permanent changes, but I’m glad it’s happening.”
Ramos and state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, attempted to block House Bill 70 from taking hold in Lorain but were unsuccessful, and all of the county’s representatives in the statehouse voted against the bill in 2015.
State Rep. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said he voted against House Bill 70 despite the fact that it was the party line because he didn’t feel it would be good for Lorain County and it didn’t include local communities in the decision-making process.
“I understand the need for intervention, but there’s also a need to include communities,” he said. “The Cleveland school district had intervention, and their plan isn’t perfect, but their community was able to come together for it. Something like this can’t be one-size-fits-all.”
Manning said he would support the new legislation and would “like to see the community be more involved” in the Lorain school district as it maneuvers through the first year of its state takeover.
Ramos said he wasn’t sure when the legislation would be heard because there is no leader since Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned earlier this month amid an FBI investigation into trips he’s taken to Europe.
Fedor, Smith, Ramos and Manning are all members of the House Education and Career Readiness Committee.
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