Senate Bill 216, the Public School Deregulation Act, would remove approximately 100 mandates governing public education. The bill would make changes such as eliminating a kindergarten readiness assessment and requiring schools to count only unexcused absences in determining a student’s chronic absenteeism (both excused and unexcused absences are currently counted). The bill would also reserve to the state government the authority to implement academic standards.
“No official or board of this state, whether appointed or elected, shall enter into any agreement or memorandum of understanding with any federal or private entity that would require the state to cede any measure of control over the development, adoption, or revision of academic content standards,” SB 216 states. “No funds appropriated from the general revenue fund shall be used to purchase an assessment developed by the partnership for assessment of readiness for college and careers for use as the assessments. …”
State Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) introduced SB 216 in October 2017. By the end of December 2018, the bill had yet to pass out of committee.
‘We Want Local Control’
Greg Lawson, a research fellow at the Buckeye Institute, says the bill is about returning power to the people.
“The concept has been around for a while, which is, ‘Let’s push things back; we want local control,” Lawson said. “We want to reduce the various layers the state has put out there over the years. I don’t think government bureaucrats intend to always cause problems, but it’s an inevitable thing when you start layering it on over the years.
“I think this is a move to cut through some of that, to make it easier for teachers to do things, and really even beyond teachers, to make sure that the local school boards and local people engaged in the process there in the school district are able to get things done without having to jump through too many hoops,” Lawson said.
Systemic Accountability Problems
Corey DeAngelis, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, says the current system of government schools assigned by ZIP code inevitably results in excessive regulation.
“Top-down regulation is necessary to guarantee minimal levels of quality and cost-effectiveness in the traditional public school system,” DeAngelis said. “Imagine if no regulations were in place in a system where children could not exit the schools unless their parents moved houses: In theory, teachers would be able to show children movies all day and fail to educate students without any consequences. Parents could complain in that system, of course, but nothing would be in place—besides the option to completely move houses—to hold schools and teachers accountable.”
Lawson says SB 216 will free district employees to make decisions more efficiently.
“Do you have to have a one-size-fits-all hammer over the head of the schools, or can you allow the principals and teachers of different buildings to make some of these decisions?” Lawson said. “And if the local folks don’t like some of the decisions that are being made, if they’re unhappy with how students are performing, then they have the right to put pressure on the school board, hire new school board members at an election, which can mean new superintendents and staffing changes. There’s a whole host of things that can be done.
“Local taxpayers who are paying a big chunk of the bill through their property taxes, and certainly local parents who actually have their children in those schools themselves, they should be the ones who are making those kinds of decisions,” Lawson said.
DeAngelis says schools should be accountable to parents, not to the state.
“Top-down accountability—to the state—is necessary when bottom-up accountability—to individuals—is absent,” DeAngelis said. “On the other hand, when bottom-up accountability is present, top-down accountability is unfavorable. State-driven accountability is a safety net. Accountability to parents and children ensures that each family receives a high-quality product. Therefore, bottom-up accountability, through school choice, is superior to top-down accountability to the state.”
Embracing Home Rule
Lawson says Ohioans should take advantage of their position as a home rule state.
“Regulations are usually meant to accomplish positive ends, so this shouldn’t be looked at as trying to bash the state of Ohio or the state Department of Education,” Lawson said. “It should be looked at more as, ‘We say we believe in local control, we’re a home rule state, we should go ahead and embrace that as much as possible.'”
Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.