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Group of Dem lawmakers introduce package to aid schools amid pandemic

Say package addresses inadequate funding, burdensome regulations, and state takeovers
March 24, 2020
Democratic Newsroom

COLUMBUS- Several Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. John Patterson (D- Jefferson), Phil Robinson (D-Solon), Joe Miller (D-Amherst) and Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), today introduced a legislative package to mitigate the negative impacts schools are facing as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The package would provide resources and allow already overburdened school districts to take the necessary steps to recover from the repercussions of this ongoing public health crisis.

The legislative package would:

  • Waive certain primary and secondary education requirements to account for the closing of schools during the outbreak;
  • Place a moratorium on the expansion of Education Choice Scholarships (EdChoice vouchers) of any kind until February 1, 2021 and revert the EdChoice provisions back to pre-HB 166 status;
  • Dissolve Academic Distress Commissions;
  • Provide districts adequate assistance to recover.

Patterson says waiving state testing for the 2019-2020 school year would prevent schools from being unfairly penalized due to the increased pressures they are facing at this time.

"At this time, state testing should be the least of our concerns.  We want all those in the education community-- our students, teachers, and support staff--to be safe and healthy. Therefore, we are proposing legislation to waive mandated testing,” said Patterson. “Similarly, senior graduations and advancements for students in grades K-11 are of concern.  To this end, we propose that students who had accumulated enough credits to graduate or advance by March 17 be permitted to do so.  For those who had fallen short, it is our belief that each school district is capable of making those strategic decisions on a case by case basis."

Robinson explains that halting the expansion of EdChoice vouchers would give much needed resources to struggling school districts.

“The closure of our schools is already putting a great strain on our teachers and public schools as they do what they can to continue to support our children,” said Robinson. “Whether it be remote, online learning for students with internet and computer access to organizing Grab and Go lunches for students in need, our public schools are doing everything they can to help families in these difficult times. In return, we should not add to school districts’ financial hardships by letting the EdChoice voucher expansion happen during our current public health crisis.”

“Both the House and Senate plans for reform to EdChoice would not let the over 1,200 school list expansion happen, the only disagreement at this point between the chambers are other reforms to the program. We need to stop the expansion before the April 1 deadline and once we get through the toughest parts of the COVID-19 outbreak, then address additional voucher reforms through bipartisan and bicameral efforts. We cannot put the cost of expansion on the backs of our school districts and continue to pit private and public schools against each other. We all need to work together now more than ever.”

Miller advocates that restoring local control would allow districts to make the best decisions for themselves about how to adapt during the outbreak.

“All districts should come out of this public health crisis with an equal footing. We need to allow local school boards the ability to make decisions with state support, not state intervention. They know what is best for their schools, which is why we must put an end to Academic Distress Commissions (ADCs) and let the board members do the job they were elected to do,” said Miller.

Lightbody also agrees that eliminating Academic Distress Commissions is a necessary step.

“The years I spent teaching in the Columbus City Schools taught me that students come to school with a wide variety of life experiences outside of school that impact their success in the classroom,” said Lightbody. “I worked hard with my colleagues, parents and administrators to help every child succeed.  All communities want strong schools to help all students learn and to live the American Dream, and I am convinced that locally elected school boards across the state are best suited to provide leadership in often stressful times, such as  during this COVID-19 outbreak.”

“Elected board members represent their districts, work hard to oversee educational efforts in their districts, and are best positioned to support everyone involved in the schools – from the students and teachers to the staff, administrators, and parents.  Returning control of the districts already in so called academic distress makes the best sense, as does preventing any other districts from being so designated.”

The Ohio House of Representatives is scheduled to convene Wednesday for the first time since the State of Emergency was declared.

Here’s what other Democratic lawmakers are saying:

“The package proposed should be enacted quickly. With so much uncertainty and anxiety, the legislature must move boldly and decisively to reinforce confidence in Ohioans. As the duly elected officials of this State, we have a responsibility to be a beacon of clarity and provide guidance and resources to our public schools.”- Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park)

Our utmost concern is for our students, administrators, teachers and staff. The work we do now is not only for this COVID-19 emergency, but also to set this state on a path towards the best outcomes for Education in Ohio. -Rep. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati)