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Brown, House Dems lead bipartisan effort to end school takeovers, restore local control

Say takeovers have failed students, districts, Ohio
May 1, 2019
Richard D. Brown News

House Democrats today announced the House passage of House Bill (HB) 154, a bipartisan effort to end state takeovers of local schools and restore control to local education officials. The bill comes amid questions of accountability, transparency and lackluster results from district takeovers in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland.

“State takeovers aren’t working, and we owe it to our kids to get this right,” said House Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron). “Ending school takeovers is one of our caucus priorities, and this bipartisan effort stands as a testament to our ability to deliver results for Ohio taxpayers. Today is a real win for our state and it helps restore our promise to taxpayers that, at your Statehouse, we work for you.”

HB 154 would dissolve existing Academic Distress Commissions, prevent the creation of new ones, and require local boards of education to establish improvement plans for low-performing schools, including adding more wraparound services like after-school enrichment and social and health services.

“Top-down, unaccountable school takeovers have failed to provide struggling schools with the support they need,” said Rep. Joe Miller (D-Amherst), the bill’s sponsor. “Today’s vote is an important step in giving a voice back to our communities and ensuring that our children receive the quality education they deserve.”

The school takeover law, which passed as an eleventh-hour amendment to HB 70 in 2015, has come under fire as unelected academic distress commissions headed by out-of-district CEOs have taken over duties of democratically-elected school board members in East Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown, which critics say aren’t working

“Failed school takeovers have been bad for students, bad for districts and bad for Ohio,” said Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown). “We can’t let students continue to fall behind. HB 154 is a collaborative, months-long effort to bring everyone to the table—parents, administrators and education officials—to restore local control and give districts a path forward to ensure every child receives a good education.”

Under the current state takeover system, 10 more districts are in danger of being stripped of local control, including Ashtabula, Canton, Columbus, Dayton, Euclid, Lima, Mansfield, North College Hill, Painesville and Toledo.

“As the state representative who represents East Cleveland and its 181-year-old public high school, I believe that every Ohio child can change the world. Perhaps the next great Lordstown innovation is currently in a Youngstown classroom.  Perhaps the solution to the Lake Erie algae crisis is a Lorain student. Perhaps the next great civil rights leader is walking down an East Cleveland school hallway,” said Minority Whip Kent Smith (D-Euclid). “These kids, our kids, can do great things. But to help ensure their potential is fully realized, local voters and local school boards should be in control. Passing HB 154 today is good for East Cleveland and good for Ohio.”

Democrats, led by Rep. Phillip M. Robinson (D-Solon), the lead Democrat on the House education panel that heard testimony on HB 154, held a series of meetings with school officials, administrators and education advocates throughout the legislative process.

“It was so critical for us to bring everyone to the table to get this right for our children. This bill is a victory for families and students by having local communities be proactive and at the center of addressing the education challenges that face their schools,” said Rep. Phil Robinson. “This will give teachers and children the ability to succeed and restore Ohio’s Promise that if you work hard, with the right support and equal opportunity, you can get ahead.”

After receiving bipartisan support in the House, the bill moves to the Senate for further consideration.

Here is what other Democratic lawmakers are saying:

“As a career educator and former middle school science teacher in the Columbus City Schools, I am very pleased that the Ohio House of Representatives helped us keep our Promise to the 1.2 million children in Ohio and their families by passing Substitute House Bill 154 today,” said Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville). “Keeping control of our school districts in the hands of local elected officials while continuing to improve the quality of our schools and helping prepare all our children for their futures is of utmost importance and a significant win for our schools.”

“I applaud this bipartisan effort to overhaul the school takeover process. As elected officials, we have a responsibility to our constituents to reform the failed school takeover process and I believe that HB154 takes a big step toward that goal.” –Rep. Richard Brown (D-Canal Winchester)

“Making sure that the control of our school districts in the hands of local elected officials is a significant win for our schools. We know that what is best for our children is being able to react quickly to their needs." –Rep. Randi Clites (D-Ravenna)

“Local school districts know what’s best for their students and the community. HB 70 undermined their ability to provide a quality and equitable education to their students,” said Rep. Erica C. Crawley (D-Columbus). “House Bill 154 is the first step on a long road to improving our state’s education system. I am committed to working with the community and stakeholders to restore and maintain local control of schools.”

“Educating our children is critical to our future. This bill returns control to communities to support our students.” –Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) 

“We should be supporting teachers, para-professionals, aides, and all others working to make their students and schools successful, not behaving as if the legislature is the master educator of all school districts that are struggling. The real victims of school takeover legislation are the kids.

“School takeovers force administrators into making decisions that are unattainable for staff, students, and communities. If we plan to make change, we must be addressing failing schools through a school-level, holistic perspective, instead of painting a broad stroke and saying all schools and all children have the same needs. I believe real change will happen on a pupil-by-pupil basis, and by making changes that address barriers to success including increased recess time, bringing back the arts to school, providing healthier food choices, on-site laundry, housing stability, and more.” –Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights)

“Ending school takeovers is a vital step to give local communities the ability to take the necessary actions to work collaboratively to ensure our children receive a good public education. Supporting our children in their education journey can only take place when the state supports local communities versus working against local communities. House Bill 154 restores local control and provides a path forward for local communities to work with the State of Ohio to provide a good public education for Ohio’s children.” –Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland)

“House Bill 154 is the first step in giving back our public school district a local voice. The State of Ohio needs to focus on equitable funding of our school district and developing policy that best support our local schools. That is how we keep Ohio’s promise to our people.” –Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) 

“CEOs and corporate special interests have no place in the classroom. I’m proud to have helped pass HB 154 before Toledo gets caught in the wake of these state takeovers.” – Rep. Mike Sheehy (D-Toledo) 

“Having been a school board member for 20 years as well as a trustee and then President of the Ohio School Boards Assn, I applaud the bipartisan decision today to return the accountability of our school districts' success back to the communities which they serve. We have much more work to do, but H. B. 154 allows us to move forward for Ohio's most vulnerable children. This is another 'Ohio Promise' kept.” –Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati) 

“Unlike the rushed process for HB 70, HB 154 actually helps our local schools, like TPS, get back on track to improve the educational experience for our children. Instead of the threat of a state takeover and an unchecked CEO, local communities will now be empowered and supported by the state to help struggling schools. Our actions today in the Statehouse live up to the Ohio promise.” –Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo)

“The last minute school takeover of the Youngstown School District was wrong from the beginning. I feel that school control should be in the hands of the elected school board members, as they continue the quality of education in their particular districts.” –Rep. Mike O’Brien (D-Warren)