Legislative Watch – November 20, 2020

House Bill 404 – Additional Flexibility for Schools, Student and Educators Due to Covid-19

The Ohio General Assembly has extended flexibility provisions impacting evaluations, licenses, assessments, health screenings, food processing program registration, retirant re-employment, college credit plus and electronic meetings by public bodies.

House Bill 404 (R-Manchester/D-Sweeney) received final approval from the General Assembly on November 19, 2020. The bill will be effective immediately upon being signed by the Governor. To see a summary of House Bill 404, click HERE.

Legislature Makes Changes to EdChoice Eligibility

Earlier this year, the House and Senate were at an impasse over EdChoice vouchers as over 1,200 buildings were set to become voucher eligible based on flawed school report cards. Unable to reach a long-term agreement, a freeze in eligibility was enacted carrying the 2019-2020 list of 517 schools forward for the 2020-2021 school year.

This week the General Assembly made changes to eligibility for the EdChoice voucher program. The changes were made by a conference committee for Senate Bill 89. Previously, the House-passed version of SB 89 contained many positive provisions including moving away from pass-through funding of vouchers and dissolution of existing academic distress commissions in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland. These provisions were removed in conference committee. Instead, new voucher eligibility criteria was put in place that expands EdChoice beyond its current levels, but smaller than the more than 1,200 schools that would be eligible next school year without a change.

The conference committee report was passed by the Senate (23-8) and House (51-36).

OEA opposed the final version of SB 89 as reported by the conference committee as it removed positive aspects of the bill passed by the House and increases voucher eligibility beyond 2020-2021 levels. Vouchers drain needed resources from the 90% of students who attend public schools. Diverting resources from public schools has real consequences such as larger class sizes and reduced opportunities for students. Additionally, recent analysis by the Cincinnati Enquirer shows that in nearly 9 of 10 cases, the public school district outperforms their private school voucher students on comparable state tests that both groups of students take. Further, SB 89 does nothing to address the problem of pass-through funding that deducts voucher amounts from state aid to school districts, thereby eroding local budgets.

Below is a summary of the provisions of SB 89 related to vouchers:

  • Cap: Retains the current cap on number of EdChoice vouchers (60,000 total vouchers with a trigger to increase the cap by 5% the following year if applications reach 90% of the cap)
  • Performance-Based Eligibility: Deletes the current criteria for a school to be EdChoice eligible based on report card performance (“D” or “F” on performance index two out of last three years; graduation rate of under 75% etc.)
  • Performance-Based Eligibility: Changes performance-based eligibility to a list of schools that meet both of the following:
    • Are in a school district with at least 20% Title I eligible students on average over the past three years; and
    • The building was in ranked in the lowest 20% of buildings on the performance index
      • For 2021-22 and the following year, lowest 20% for both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years
      • For 2023-24, lowest 20% for both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years
      • For 2024-25 and beyond, lowest 20% for two out of three of the most recent years
  • Grandfathering: Current EdChoice voucher recipients maintain their eligibility to renew through 12th grade
  • Grandfathering: Students who were eligible for an EdChoice voucher this school year based on the current (frozen) school-based eligibility list (2019-2020 list of 517 buildings)
  • Income-Based Eligibility: Increases the threshold of eligibility for the income-based EdChoice voucher from 200% of poverty to 250% of poverty. ($65,500 for a family of four). The income-based voucher is paid directly by the state and available statewide.

Bill to Alter Training Requirements for Armed School Staff Passes Ohio Senate

This week, Senate Bill 317 (Coley-Liberty Township) passed the Ohio Senate 21-11. The bill seeks to reverse the recent 12th District Court of Appeals ruling on Gabbard v. Madison Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn., 2020-Ohio-1180, regarding training requirements for arming school staff. This decision is on appeal at the Ohio Supreme Court.

Specifically, the bill would exempt district staff authorized by local school boards of education to carry concealed firearms from a requirement that peace officer basic training be obtained. OEA opposes the legislation. The safety of Ohio’s students and school staff necessitates increased training requirements for armed personnel not fewer.

The bill now heads to the Ohio House for consideration.