COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. John Kasich has long pushed to take over Ohio’s education department, whose structure he sees as a hindrance to unified school policy.
A bill moving swiftly through the state Legislature includes that takeover and more. The legislation would merge three state entities and place the new combined agency under the governor’s watch.
Critics of the proposal, who have been packing hearing rooms, argue the bill creates a cumbersome bureaucracy that would be less accountable to school administrators, teachers, parents and other members of the public.
Here’s a closer look at the proposal, which gets its next hearing Wednesday (March 14):
Q: Which three agencies would be merged?
A: The Ohio Department of Education, which oversees K-12 schools; the Ohio Department of Higher Education, which oversees public colleges and universities; and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, would be combined into a new Ohio Department of Learning and Achievement.
Q: Who would lead the new agency?
A: The bill creates a new director of learning achievement appointed by the governor to oversee both K-12 and higher education functions. It eliminates Ohio’s chancellor of higher education and abolishes the Ohio Board of Regents, a once-powerful advisory board which Kasich has already gutted by failing to fill openings as they’ve arisen. The legislation retains the state superintendent of public instruction and state school board, but takes away most of their powers and duties. A new deputy director of learning achievement would oversee the workforce development office.
Q: Would the bill save money?
A: No. There’s a modest savings from eliminating the chancellor’s $216,000 salary-and-benefits package, but, according to legislative fiscal analysts, the proposal adds similar costs for paying the new director and includes modest costs for moving and signage. The 645 employees of the two departments would be retained, along with the five-member workforce development staff.
Q: So what are the benefits of the merger?
A: Republican Rep. Bill Reineke, of Tiffin, the bill’s sponsor, testified last month that the “arc from ‘crib to career’ or ‘birth to work’ demands a unified approach and consistent vision by our education system.” He and other supporters of the proposal argue, in essence, that Ohio’s existing structure for education oversight needs to be modernized to more seamlessly dovetail the state’s education goals so that learning goals, education outcomes and the needs of Ohio employers are all taken into consideration as a package. In theory, better coordination of Ohio’s school-to-work preparations also would save the state money in the long run.
Q: What do opponents say?
A: Critics of the merger proposal include state teachers’ unions, associations representing school superintendents and fiscal officers, legislative Democrats and some newspapers around the state. They argue the proposal creates an ill-conceived “mega-agency” that would diminish the role of educators, families and the general public in crafting Ohio’s education policy. Among their concerns is that, in crafting the bill, Kasich never consulted the sitting state superintendent, Paolo DeMaria, an education policy expert whose hiring won unanimous support of the often-divided state school board.
Q: Have similar moves been tried in other states?
A: Yes. Then-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, created a powerful education board with similar goals in 2011. The Oregon Education Investment Board, loaded with influential Oregonians, ended a high-profile flop after three and a half years. In Florida, voters wound up reversing an overhaul that had consolidated education control. Alabama also went the opposite way from Ohio’s proposal, acting to unlink oversight of K-12 education from oversight of colleges and universities. In January, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed creating a new state office to coordinate the state’s dozens of disparate workforce training programs. New York is among states that already house elementary, secondary and higher education within a single state Education Department.
AP reporters Jonathan Cooper in Sacramento, California; Chris Carola in Albany, New York; Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi; and Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.