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Ohio GOP effort introduced to make all state board of education positions elected and partisan

COLUMBUS, Ohio — APRIL 20: The Ohio Department of Education in Columbus, Ohio. (Graham Stokes/Ohio Capital Journal)

Ohio Capital Journal — An Ohio Republican bill that would eventually make all members of the State Board of Education in Ohio elected officials with party labels was introduced Tuesday.

But House Bill 235’s sponsor, state Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, R-Ashtabula, told the Ohio House Primary and Secondary Education Committee that the bill also addresses what she claimed is a “serious omission of transparency and accountability” in the state education system.

Since the state’s operating budget was passed with an overhaul of the Ohio Department of Education, which will now be the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, Fowler Arthur said the “shift of responsibilities” means the State Board of Education “would no longer hold monthly public forums for testimony on the education rules and regulations affecting K-12 education in the state of Ohio.”

“During my eight years as an elected member of the board, we typically heard 10 to 30 rules during each monthly public hearing – equaling 240 to 300 rules per year,” Fowler Arthur said.

Changes in the law no longer require public hearings for testimony on rules, she told the committee.

“Instead, the responsibility to create, review, and authorize new and existing rules now falls to an unelected, bureaucratic agency process,” Fowler Arthur said on Tuesday.

For that reason, HB 235 seeks to reinstitute the rule-change meetings and public testimony and “ensure public accountability with an all-elected, partisan State Board of Education, gradually phased-in along congressional districts as current board memberships expire,” according to the bill sponsor.

The bill would take the State Board of Education count of 19 members and reduce it 15, based on Ohio’s current 15 congressional districts.

But it will take a while for that phase-in to happen, under the new bill, with the first board member elections based on congressional districts happening during the 2024 November general election, with four at-large members still present on the board.

The whittled down, 15-member elected board wouldn’t be complete until 2027, according to analysis of the bill by the Legislative Service Commission.

Putting partisanship into state school board

One other change to be made under the bill is the board’s nonpartisan status. If passed as written, the bill would move any State Board of Education member elections from the nonpartisan ballot to the ballot aligning with the political party for which the member aligns. Candidates would appear between court of appeals judges and county commissioners on local ballots.

With that change, board of education members would be subject to primaries.

“Under the bill, the candidates first must seek election in a primary election in a primary election like other partisan offices, which requires the candidates to file declarations of candidacy rather than nominating petitions, for example,” the LSC said in their analysis.

Fowler Arthur’s fellow committee member state Rep. Joe Miller, D-Lorain, pushed back on that element of the bill, questioning whether more partnership is needed in Ohio education.

“I think that it’s misleading a little to think that adding an ‘R’ or ‘D’ next to (the candidate) is going to improve the vetting process,” Miller said.

Fowler Arthur argued the advantage of partisanship is putting those candidates on the primary ballot, allowing for more exposure to voters, and voters “will have the opportunity to get out and vet their candidates more thoroughly.”

“My hope would be that, similar to the board of elections, it would give us the opportunity to have a more balanced perspective,” Fowler Arthur said.

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