Senate bill targets school mandates

By David J. Coehrs -

A bill has been introduced in the Ohio Senate that would remove layers of required mandates considered unnecessarily costly and time-consuming from the state’s school districts.

The Ohio Public School Deregulation Act, or Senate Bill 216, would eliminate about 100 rules and regulations currently imposed on the state’s 608 school districts by the Ohio Department of Education. Categories include state testing methods, teacher licensure, teacher evaluation systems, and preschool operation.

Twelfth District Senator Matt Huffman (R-Lima) introduced the bill to clear dozens of flawed policies from the ODE’s roster of mandates. He said all were the brainchild of legislators who thought they were good ideas or state Board of Education policy changes that didn’t work.

“Unfortunately, what happens with school districts is, we have people who appear to be well-intentioned create a set of laws and rules that are more difficult and that cost more money and cause paper work and bureaucracy,” he said. “We have many schools that use a great deal of their resources just responding to paper work and the same information being given time and time again.”

Huffman said the excess of inefficient, costly mandates was brought to his attention by Ohio school superintendents who say the regulations are unnecessary and troublesome.

“What it really comes back to is, sure, all of these things in concept may be good ideas, but let’s let our superintendents do their jobs,” he said.

Huffman sat down earlier this year with the school superintendents of the districts he represents and forged a set of rules to repeal the ODE mandates that don’t work well and cost the school districts money. He said the targeted mandates are especially hard on smaller school districts with less staff and financial resources.

He cited as an example a mandate requiring teachers to undergo 30 hours of training for gifted children, even teachers who will never need the training. He also pointed out the mandate that rules all students must complete state testing on computers.

“We’re not really testing the knowledge of kids, we’re testing their ability to use the computer,” Huffman said. “A kid in third grade taking a test on a medium he doesn’t know how to use – how did it get that way? We shouldn’t be having kids fail tests because it’s good for the profit or not-for-profit organization (supplying them).”

Some of the more important changes Bill 216 proposes are a more flexible teacher licensure and the ability to more quickly hire substitute teachers and aides, he said. He cited the fact that, before ODE ceded to complaints and changed the policy, long-term substitutes had to be requalified 36 times annually.

Huffman said while the state has an obligation to oversee the school system, micromanaging from the state or federal level results in a lot of bad ideas.

“People who are running the school districts are the education experts, and the people who are oftentimes making these rules…don’t have that kind of expertise,” he said. “When Columbus makes mistakes it affects everybody.

“Legislators, by necessity, are generalists. We have to vote on lots of things. Instead of flexibility, we end up with constrictions. We need to stop making rules based on, hey, the legislators have a good idea. We’re taking time and money and effort away from the schools. They’re doing other things instead of what they should be doing – teaching kids.”

The ODE did not return a request for comment.

The Evergreen Local Schools Board of Education plans to support the bill through a resolution. Superintendent Jim Wyse said many of the mandates in question are useless.

“In a nutshell, it eliminates a lot of mandates that have been imposed on school systems for a number of years, which could reduce our costs,” he said. “It also gives us a lot more control on decision-making and how to operate our schools.”

Pettisville Local Schools Superintendent Steve Switzer said the district normally doesn’t offer formal declarations of support. But he said the schools certainly agree with the deregulation act.

Switzer said with 132 state legislators determining policy for their school districts, “the way (the policies) fit together sometimes doesn’t work. We do appreciate the efforts to release some of the regulatory requirements. It’s sort of giving us a little bit of regulatory relief.”

The first legislative hearing for Bill 216 took place last week. Huffman said the chair of the Senate’s Education Committee expects additional hearings. He said the goal is to move Bill 216 out of the Senate by year’s end.

“I’m optimistic about it. I’m looking at this as how we do business in the public schools in the future,” he said. “They shouldn’t pass bills that make everyone feel good for the present.”

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.