Language regarding academic distress commissions was removed from the Ohio Senate’s version of the state budget, which passed its Finance Committee on Wednesday evening.
The Senate’s omnibus substitute bill to House Bill 166, which creates the biennial budget, no longer includes House-passed language repealing and replacing House Bill 70, a controversial 2015 law that allows for state takeover of failing school districts. As the substitute moves unanimously to the full Senate floor this morning, it is expected state takeovers will come up in legislators’ discussions surrounding the Conference Committee.
Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said the removal of the language doesn’t mean legislators aren’t still working on the problems created by House Bill 70.
“We certainly had different viewpoints in our Senate Caucus, and didn’t want to put something in that certainly those of us that are in the districts like Youngstown and Lorain to have to vote against the budget because we don’t agree with the language and we couldn’t quite get there where we were all on the same page,” he said.
The Conference Committee includes the top-ranking members of the House and Senate. It is a chance for the legislature to compromise on the differences between their respective budget bills ahead of sending it to the governor for his signature before the June 30 deadline.
The Senate Finance Committee had looked at an amendment introduced by Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, on academic distress commissions. It would change the name of academic distress commissions and the CEO and create a state-level board to oversee them. Her amendment, discussed earlier this week, would also have given struggling districts six years before falling under state control, but did not give the same to those already under the mandate.
Manning said he could not support that amendment as drafted. He said he is hopeful a compromise can be reached in the next 10 days.
When the budget overwhelmingly passed the House last month, it included language from House Bill 154, introduced by Reps. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and Don Jones, R-Freeport. That language would have removed academic distress commissions completely, instead replacing them with wraparound services and support from the Ohio Department of Education. HB 154-based language would have returned local control to the three districts currently under state takeover and prevented as many as 10 others from falling under state purview in the next two years.
Wednesday evening Miller said he couldn’t support the state budget plan without a full repeal of House Bill 70, and was concerned what could happen during the impending discussions.
“I don’t know what kind of support we’re going to have because there’s too many actors, there’s too many factors and there’s too many that are going to be horse-traded back and forth to get it right,” he said. “There’s going to be give and take in Conference Committee. I just hope that 154 is the give and not the take.”
He expressed concern that any new language now would come out of closed-door dealings between legislators — comparing it to how the takeover legislation was passed in 2015 just hours after it was amended from a bill to provide wraparound services with little to no input from the public.
If no compromise is reached and the budget does not address state takeovers, Manning said he would look to move ahead with his Senate Bill 110. That legislation, introduced in March and stalled in committee during the budget process, is Lorain-specific and would change the makeup of the district’s academic distress commission to one with more local appointees and require the CEO to make quarterly appearances before the locally elected school board to provide reports on the district’s progress toward getting out of academic distress.
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