A state senator representing Lorain County said legislators mostly agree House Bill 70 needs to be fixed, but the discord comes in how to change it.
While House Bill 154, which would restore local control to struggling school districts, awaits a hearing in the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said Thursday evening that he thinks legislative change will come via the biennial budget.
“I think most of us view the current situation as failing and I think there will be a fix,” he said. “I think it will happen in the budget, but you never know. If it doesn’t happen in the budget then certainly I think 154 could be the vehicle. But I think right now, this, timelinewise, I don’t see the Senate voting out that bill and it becoming law before the budget.”
The biennial budget, House Bill 166, is in the House Finance Committee and had its fifth hearing Thursday. The current text regarding academic distress commissions includes recommendations made by the state superintendent via his review of House Bill 70 released last month.
Several members of the Legislature are expecting the biennial budget’s language to change. Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, who introduced House Bill 154 with Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, wants to carve out the language in the budget on distress commissions and replace it with House Bill 154.
Manning said that could be the language the state uses, but he doesn’t expect HB 154 to pass as standalone legislation through the Senate.
“While I’ve certainly had lots of discussions with people, including the sponsors, I haven’t taken a deep dive into (HB 154),” he said. “I’ve heard some issues with it, but at the same time I’ve heard certainly a lot of good things about it as well.”
Those concerns include the way the bill moved through the House, Manning said, brought up by the overnight approach taken to passing House Bill 70 in 2015.
“It wasn’t starred for a vote, it was voted out of a very late committee, immediately went to the floor, they suspended rules to get it to the floor. And while it had three hearings, it’s certainly nothing like House Bill 70, some of the fear I’m hearing from people who haven’t taken a deep dive into it is we want to make sure we don’t rush into something and make another mistake on top of House Bill 70.”
The Lorain plan
One of those multiple solutions is Manning’s Lorain-specific Senate Bill 110, which is still in the Education Committee. It has had three hearings, but has not been voted out of committee and sent to the floor. Its last hearing was April 9.
The legislation would change the makeup of the district’s Academic Distress Commission, giving the mayor one of the sate superintendent’s appointments and requiring more communication between the CEO and locally elected school board.
Manning said he is confident something will change with the current state takeover model, but is uncertain of the timing. If it is not passed in the budget, he said he wants SB 110 to be a position to move through the Legislature.
“If we can’t make sure we get it right, than maybe we should take more time,” he said. “But in that case, we can’t take more time for Lorain, we need to get something done for Lorain in the short-term.”
Manning said he would be open to amending SB 110 to include Youngstown and East Cleveland if the plan was presented, but noted each districts’ needs are different, and a one-size-fits-all approach was part of the problem with HB 70.
Democrats against privatization
In the midst of legislation moving between the House and Senate, the Ohio Democratic Party passed a resolution Tuesday in support of traditional public schools.
The resolution says school privatization, which includes state takeovers, charter networks and voucher programs, “relies on destructive policies that harm students and blame educators that has proven to be ineffective at bringing efficiency and cost savings to our schools.”
In a statement on the party’s website, Chairman David Pepper said the party continues to support restoration of Ohio’s promise of a quality education and a brighter future for hardworking residents and their families.
“The Ohio Democratic Party resolved to reject the dangerous and harmful school privatization agenda that includes state takeovers, scam charter schools like (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow), voucher schemes and a high-stakes test-and-punish philosophy,” he said.
Organizations are called out in the resolution — American Legislative Exchange Council, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Chiefs for Change, Teach for America and Democrats for Education Reform — as profiteers dedicated to public school privatization.
Critics of ALEC, including the Ohio Education Association, have said the language for the current state takeover model came directly from the council.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a conservative education think-tank that submitted testimony against House Bill 154. After its passage in the House, the group released a statement that the bill weakens intervention systems to the point of making them meaningless.
Teach for America has come under fire nationally and in Lorain, with critics saying the five-week program does not prepare its core members for teaching in the majority-low-income neighborhoods they are sent to. The program requires its members to put in two years as teachers.
In Lorain, CEO David Hardy and many of his administration at the district and building levels are Teach for America alumni. Lorain Board of Education members Tony Dimacchia and Mark Ballard have both criticized those TFA-grads as being unqualified and lacking credentials.
Hardy also has ties to the Chiefs for Change group named in the party’s resolution.
Chiefs for Change is an education advocacy group and nonprofit network, founded in 2010 by former Florida governor and 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Reorganized in 2015, it broke away from Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and now connects education leaders at the district and state level.
Hardy is listed as a Future Chief in Cohort 2. State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria is listed as a Chief and provides mentorship and collective learning opportunities to cohort members along with other chiefs, according to the group’s website.
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