Alternatives to GOP Education Takeover Proposal

Preschool kid raise arm up to answer teacher question on whiteboard in classroom.

Connecting Education with Work
Effective policies that work and don’t eliminate the voice of the people like HB 512

House Bill 512, the pending GOP legislative proposal to radically reorganize agencies that oversee education and workforce programs statewide has been a lightning rod for opposition (read our earlier coverage here and here) . From home school parents who believe the creation of HB 512’s new, mega-bureaucracy will infringe on their educational rights, to public school advocates who believe that undermining the authority of a publicly accountable Board of Education will harm democracy–folks on all sides of the education policy debate have been unified about one thing: HB 512 must be stopped.

However, the question HB 512 seeks to answer–better connecting education and training with workforce needs–is an essential one about the relevance of education for our state’s kids and students.

We offer here several ways to better connect education with work that don’t involve a wholesale takeover of the state’s elected Board of Education by an unaccountable, gubernatorially-appointed board overseeing a new, mega-bureaucracy. These are listed in no particular order.

Free, or greatly reduced Community College tuition

More than 30,000 students in Tennessee and 7,000 in Oregon have attended free community college in those states, which are two of four that offer free community college to students of various ages. Other states like Arkansas and Louisiana have grant programs that assist with students seeking specific degrees or perform well academically.

Generally, these programs are grants that are so-called “last in” grants, meaning it requires students to apply for all other needs-based grants. Some have income caps. But in Tennessee, which has about half of Ohio’s population, the program cost $12 million a year to cover new high school graduates. This year, they added all adults to the grant program at a cost of $10 million. Even doubling that amount would mean the cost to Ohio would be less than what the state spends on printing services at the Department of Administrative Services.

School-Industry Partnerships

Ohio already has STEM schools, which are funded like charter schools, but which focus on the technology-related fields people who support HB 512 claim Ohio is lacking. Investing in more STEM schools, but with an eye toward partnering with certain industries, could be replicated around the state. Though their funding model would have to change so it wouldn’t have a detrimental impact on local school districts.

In Arkansas, one of that state’s high schools started a Power Business Academy, which partnered with local businesses to teach skills necessary for workforce success. The result was a much better relationship between the education and business sectors in Ozark City, as well as better opportunities for their graduates. Upscaling similar opportunities in our state could help accelerate the partnerships necessary for similar success.

Breaking down silos

One of the familiar refrains from HB 512 supporters is there are too many silos among the Department of Education, Department of High Education and Governor’s Office of Workforce Development. And the only way to break them down is to merge them into one, unaccountable mega-bureaucracy.

However, breaking down silos doesn’t require such a radical change in the way Ohio delivers education and training. For example, a representative of the Board of Regents and Office of Workforce Development could take part in standards writing at ODE.

Likewise, ODE representatives could be in on any changes the Board of Regents wants to make in curriculum or degree requirements. And the Office of Workforce Development could assist ODE’s development of vocational education options, as well as BOR’s curriculum and degree development. None of these options would require a radical restructuring that robs millions of Ohioans of their voices in education policy development. Yet it would lead to better, more coordinated approaches to improving college workforce readiness of Ohio students.

There are certainly many ideas about achieving HB 512’s goals without continuing down its democratically destructive path. These are three that represent a good step forward. Nobody wants HB 512. But they do recognize that our students deserve to be as prepared for the workforce as possible.  That begins with a strong education system that encourages critical thinking, creativity and broad competence in many subjects and skills. HB 512 proponents have yet to explain how any of their radical changes will ensure that for our students. While it would ensure better outcomes for the adults who want to take over Ohio education, the kids who would bear the brunt of this obvious power grab would not benefit.

However, investments in these three ideas would have profound impacts on our students and young people. Instead of figuring out how to give more power to unaccountable bureaucrats, Ohio’s legislature should adopt these common sense solutions that wouldn’t represent a radical power grab by truculent politicians.