Are you able to name your elected member of the state Board of Education? The likely answer is no. These public servants each have districts that represent populations of more than a million Ohioans.
The board is an unwieldy 19-person board, comprising 11 members elected by voters and eight members appointed by the governor. It is an incredibly powerful body, which adjudicates grievances against public school teachers, provides policy leadership for the Ohio Department of Education, and makes decisions about graduation test scores and the state report card. Its most important task is hiring and firing the superintendent of public instruction who runs the day-to-day operations of the Department of Education.
You read that right. A board comprised of people whom even the most informed Ohioans could not name, chooses the leader of the Ohio public school system.
There are three obvious ways in which the current flawed structure is not able to produce the best outcomes for our children.
First, Ohio essentially has two bodies making education policy in the state. The legislature is tasked with passing laws in the state, but when it comes to education policy we have two entities that are often at odds with each other when it comes to deciding how our schools should serve our students. This added layer of bureaucracy makes things confusing, waters down policy, and isn’t good for our children.
Second, Ohioans elect governors to be stewards for the state. The governor decides who oversees transportation, prisons and taxation. This allows for state agencies to work together, with a shared vision to help move the state forward. The Department of Education is the only major executive branch department over which the governor does not have direct appointment authority. So while voters will ultimately hold governors responsible for the way in which public education is administered, the state’s chief executives never have full control of the outcomes.
Third, the board is one of the most political bodies in the state. One only needs to do a Google search of its actions to see how hyper-partisan it has been over the years. The petty disputes which have plagued the board only harm our kids.
There are several ideas floating around Capital Square to address some of these problems. Some involve reducing the number of board members. Others involve adding more appointed seats.
But, there is an easy, common-sense solution that will be better for students.
Recently, Michigan lawmakers introduced a resolution to abolish their state board of education through a statewide referendum.
The Ohio Board of Education is constitutionally mandated, so we would have to go through a similar process if we were to abolish the board. We don’t have to go that far. It’s all about redefinition.
The Ohio Constitution simply states:
“There shall be a state board of education which shall be selected in such manner and for such terms as shall be provided by law. There shall be a superintendent of public instruction, who shall be appointed by the state board of education. The respective powers and duties of the board and of the superintendent shall be prescribed by law.”
The legislature should redefine the roles of the board and the state superintendent in statute. The board should deal exclusively with teacher licensure. This would fit with mandates of many other boards and commissions throughout state government. The superintendent would functionally become the executive director of this still important board and have a small staff to make sure cases are adjudicated in a timely manner.
A new position called the director of public education could be created in law. This would be an appointment by the governor with advice and consent from the Ohio Senate, through a process every other cabinet member in the executive branch goes. The director would run the Department of Education.
Form follows function. The function of the Ohio Department of Education is to ensure that schools and districts are providing our children with a quality education. The current form does not make any sense and therefore will never optimally deliver on that function.
The people who serve on the state board are mostly well-meaning public servants. But their roles have been miscast in one of the most important policy areas for our state’s future.
Voters will hold governors and legislators accountable for the future of public education. Let’s give them a system that will actually allow them, and most important our children, to succeed.
Jai Chabria formerly served as senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich, and also as head of personnel for the state of Ohio.