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DeWine says he is open to reviewing House Bill 70

  • AP-Legislative-Preview

    Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks at an annual forum sponsored by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

    ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS / AP

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COLUMBUS — Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is open to looking at the impact of House Bill 70 on the state’s school districts.

When questioned by Andy Young, editor emeritus of The Chronicle-Telegram, at an annual AP-sponsored forum Tuesday, DeWine confirmed he is open to reviewing House Bill 70 and possibly making changes to the legislation.

“One of the concerns, one of the things that we have seen in Youngstown, Lorain, is the obvious loss of local control, and we’re seeing some of the dynamics that result from the loss of local control. We are a very local government state,” DeWine said. “We like it that way, most of us do. Most of us think that problems get solved locally, so I’ve got some people working on this and we are working with some legislators on this, actually, but I really can’t go into any more details at this point.”

Passed under Gov. John Kasich in 2015, the bill allowed for the state takeover of Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland schools. As many as 10 other school districts could come under its purview in the coming years if the bill — or the districts’ state report card scores — remain unchanged.

DeWine declined going into details or specify which legislators he was working with, but said the state needs to focus on how it helps underperforming districts.

“We have an immediate question that we have other schools that are starting to move down the track and will get there, it would appear,” he said. “But at the same time you also have the issue of schools that maybe aren’t quite yet on the track, maybe they’re in the future, many of them have poor children — how do you target resources to those poor kids, but make sure that whatever was going on in that school district that wasn’t working, that you’re not just pouring more money on top of that and not fixing whatever the problem is?”

During a legislative panel earlier Tuesday morning, Young asked a similar question of Senate and House leaders. When briefly outlining the problems Lorain faces under the legislation, he quoted Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer’s statement from Monday night’s City Council meeting, “(House Bill 70) at its root it’s designed not to work.”

Senate President Larry Obhof, Montville Township, who voted for HB70, said it’s time to take another look at the bill — something he said Kasich’s administration was unwilling to do.

“The prior administration resisted any attempt to not just roll back House Bill 70 but take a serious look at whether it was working or not,” he said. “And that suggests strongly to me that we need to have that evaluation.”

He said he can guarantee the senate education chair is looking into the bill throughout this spring as well.

House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, compared the frustrations schools feel under House Bill 70 with what his home school district, New Lexington, felt when it was in dire fiscal straights.

“I think there is a place for another set of eyes,” Householder said. “I understand the frustration involved with that, we were in that same frustration in our local school district when it all happened to us, but I do think it needs to be monitored and looked at and make certain that we continue to have locals involved as we did then and move forward and try to make the school district a better school district if we can.”

Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, said legislators can’t perform miracles when children are growing up in poverty with insufficient housing or food. His district includes East Cleveland, whose schools went under the mandate this year. The district is fighting the decision, with a civil case ongoing in the Franklin County courts against the Ohio Department of Education.

“The experts are the people who grew up in those communities, who live in those communities, who know the students, who know the principals, the teachers and all the interested parties — whether they’re parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles or who else lives in the cities — we have to give these communities the tools they need. And those tools are going to come in the form of sufficient dollars.”

House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, said she originally voted for House Bill 70 before its amendments. Once it came back from the Senate, she remembers walking down to take her name off the bill, as it was the “opposite” of its original intention to increase wraparound programs.

“This is not helpful,” she said of the bill’s amended iteration. “It has not been helpful, we told them it would not be helpful, and it should not have been included.”

She said a number of caucus members are drafting bills to address the “fall out” of the controversial legislation.

“Our kids deserve better, they certainly deserve better than HB70,” Sykes said.

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.

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