Week in Review > Week in Review 02-18-2022Posted by Buckeye Association of School Administrators on February 18th, 2022
COVID cases and hospitalization figures have continued to decline as February is now half over, with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reporting 1,312 new cases, 99 hospitalizations and 22 ICU admissions Monday. The number of new cases reported by ODH has fallen each day since Tuesday, Feb. 8, when 4,385 new cases were reported. So far, the month has seen 52,703 new cases, 3,273 hospitalizations and 309 ICU admissions. By comparison, there were 291,596 cases, 5,216 hospitalizations and 478 ICU admissions between Jan. 1 and Jan. 14, though the case data included a backlog for Jan. 14.
The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) got three responses to its latest solicitation for companies that can run an afterschool stipend program for qualifying families and hopes to sign a contract with a vendor by month’s end. Agency officials updated the State Board of Education (SBOE) on the procurement process and plans to deter fraud in the program at Monday’s meeting of the board’s Emerging Issues and Operational Standards Committee. Lawmakers created the Afterschool Child Enrichment (ACE) education savings account program in the biennial budget, HB110 (Oelslager), providing $50 million in FY22 and $75 million in FY23, to be used to provide up to $500 per child for families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line. The money can be used for before- and afterschool programming, music lessons, museum admissions or other such purposes. The budget bill assigned ODE to determine families’ eligibility but left program administration to a vendor.
The State Board of Education’s (SBOE) Teaching, Leading, and Learning (TLL) Committee Monday postponed a vote on the upcoming Ohio Dyslexia Guidebook, choosing instead to continue revising the document. Under 133-HB436 (Baldridge), the guidebook, which is in its third draft, needs final approval from the SBOE prior to distribution, though there is no deadline. Signed into law last January, the bill created the Ohio Dyslexia Committee (ODC), charged with creating a guidebook focused on the best practices and methods for screening and teaching children with dyslexia or children displaying dyslexic characteristics.
The committee developing criteria for the SBOE to implement the reformed state report card for schools and districts voted Monday to approve sending proposed rules for the new rating system to the full board, which must adopt them before the end of March. The committee revised the proposed cut scores for the Early Literacy component, based on new simulations using 2021 data and stakeholder feedback urging the board to set a benchmark for the next two years with a commitment to revisit it — the approach the board was already planning on other elements of the new report card.
The House Finance Committee Tuesday took a deep dive into the substitute version of HB290, the “backpack” bill from Reps. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) and Marilyn John (R-Shelby), which proposes to put into place an education program where “state educational dollars” will follow the child. McClain said it has been “a year in development” but the sub bill itself was not available for the committee or others until following the day’s hearing. Both sponsors repeatedly stressed that their intent is to put the child at the center of the education puzzle, with their proposal allowing parents to choose the best educational setting for their student. There were scores of questions, ranging from Ranking Member Bride Sweeney’s (D-Cleveland) about why the Legislature would pass this right after having just approved — after four years’ work — the six-year Fair School Funding plan, to questions about what happens to the child if the private school won’t take him or her or sends the child back to the public school for behavioral issues, which happens now, according to Rep. Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon), who said he goes “back and forth” on the bill.
Attorney General Dave Yost’s office recently told a judge the state does not object to a bid by EdChoice families to intervene in the litigation challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s school voucher program. Plaintiffs, meanwhile, argued that Yost essentially made their case for blocking the intervention by noting the state’s capability in defending the program itself. Several school districts filed suit recently in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to allege the EdChoice program violates constitutional provisions requiring lawmakers to provide a “common” school system and barring the state from putting education funding in the control of religious groups. Several EdChoice families responded by filing a request with Judge Jaiza Page to be made parties to the case, arguing there’s precedent for such a request.
Legislation to restrict teaching of “divisive concepts” in schools got another update Wednesday in the House State and Local Government Committee, which accepted a -12 substitute version of HB327.
Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Rock Creek), one of the bill’s joint sponsors, described the changes briefly, saying they “simplify” some of the language and respond to concerns raised by witness testimony at prior hearings. She said the sponsors wanted everyone interested to have a chance to read the latest changes before further testimony, which was not taken at Wednesday’s hearing. Democrats on the committee — Reps. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati), Tavia Galonski (D-Akron), Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood) and Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) — voted against acceptance of the sub bill. The Ohio Education Association (OEA) and other bill opponents said the changes did not alleviate their concerns about the proposal.
Interim Superintendent of Education Stephanie Siddens informed the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee about ODE efforts to accelerate learning after achievement drops amid the pandemic, as well as other activities at the department. She was joined by department staff and SBOE President Charlotte McGuire and Vice President Steve Dackin, who expressed hopes for a stronger partnership with legislators as they work to improve student learning and preparedness.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has given FirstEnergy until Tuesday, April 5 to disclose customer refunds for a wide range of misreported charges beyond its now-infamous “political” contributions, though the company claims it should not have to remunerate consumers for infrastructure costs dating back as far as seven years. FERC says FirstEnergy billed over a half billion dollars in administrative/general (A&G) expenses to construction projects, even though most workers questioned by the agency did not actually perform construction-related tasks. Federal investigators recently issued an 82-page audit of FirstEnergy covering a large number of accounting practices, including lobbying expenses and “unsupported costs” for political and related activities, improper fuel charges, unauthorized asset depreciation, and misreported construction payroll.
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