Week in Review > Week in Review 4-22-24

Posted by on April 21st, 2024

CHILDREN/FAMILIES

Gov. Mike DeWine Friday announced the initial communities in 11 counties that will be served by the new universal nurse home visiting program, Family Connects, and its partner organizations. Family Connects will offer all new families, within the geographic areas selected, a nurse home visit around three weeks after the family brings their baby home. The visits will begin in the summer, with the goal of serving approximately 4,000 new families within a year of beginning the program. The partners and communities include the following:

– Every Child Succeeds will offer visits to families in 16 zip codes throughout Hamilton County (45202, 45204, 45205, 45206, 45208, 45209, 45213, 45214, 45215, 45216, 45225, 45229, 45232, 45238, 45242, 45246).

– Fisher-Titus Medical Center will offer visits to families who deliver their babies at the Medical Center, which includes primarily residents of Huron and Erie counties.

– Greene County Public Health, Darke County General Health District, Fayette County Public Health and Sidney-Shelby County Health Department collaboration will offer visits to families in Darke, Fayette, Greene and Shelby counties.

– Mahoning Public Health and Trumbull County Combined Health District will offer visits to families in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

– Noble County Health Department and the Cambridge-Guernsey County Health Department will offer visits to families in Noble and Guernsey counties.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce Tuesday hosted its inaugural Access & Affordability to Childcare Summit, with panels on child care delivery models, best practices, and a “fireside chat” with the director of the new Ohio Department of Children and Youth, Kara Wente. The summit comes on the heels of Gov. Mike DeWine’s “State of the State” address in which he continued to focus on children and improving accessing to child care. During the address, DeWine announced, among other initiatives, the “Child Care Choice Voucher Program” for families who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $60,000 for a family of four; as well as $85 million for “Child Care Access Grants” to provide resources to improve and expand existing child care facilities. Both programs make use of federal funding. On Tuesday, Wente discussed the new programs and issues like affordability, ensuring quality, and public-private partnerships in a conversation with Ohio Chamber President and CEO Steve Stivers, who has also repeatedly highlighted the effect of the child care crisis on business and the economy.

EDUCATION

The Controlling Board approved nearly $11 million in advance funding to the Mt. Healthy City School District in Hamilton County. The Ohio Auditor of State declared the school in fiscal emergency earlier this month, finding an operating deficit of $10,758,000. The advance, equal to the deficit, will keep the district solvent in FY24, and it will be paid back over the next two fiscal years. According to the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), the district would not be able to meet payroll or other financial obligations without assistance. The deficit, which is equal to the advance, represents 26 percent of Mt. Healthy’s General Fund revenues for FY24.

Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware) said Wednesday to expect an amendment aimed at limiting cell phone usage in schools potentially within the next week. Brenner, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said an amendment addressing students’ use of cell phones in school may be added to HB250 (Miranda-Richardson). The amendment requires each school district board of education to adopt a policy governing the use of cell phones by students during school hours. The policy, according to the amendment, must “emphasize that student cellular telephone use be as limited as possible during school hours,” and “reduce cellular telephone-related distractions in classroom settings.”

The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) is gathering feedback in advance of posting a draft rewrite of state rules on school transportation, which could address recent budget bill changes as well recommendations of Gov. Mike DeWine’s school bus safety working group. DEW held a video conference Tuesday for stakeholders on plans for the rule revisions, which are being considered as part of the routine five-year review required for all administrative rules. Colleen Grady, senior program officer for educational policy and options at DEW, said to address concerns about mid-year rule implementation, DEW is looking to have the new rules take effect for the 2025-2026 academic year, though the rule revisions will likely be finalized by the end of 2024. Student transportation rules are addressed now in Ohio Administrative Code 3301-83-01 through -25. The department followed up Wednesday by posting the draft rules for comment. They are available at https://tinyurl.com/yeyswdnp.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

Looming restrictions on gender transition services for children and transgender women and girls’ participation in K-12 and collegiate sports are on hold under a judge’s order issued Tuesday. Judge Michael Holbrook of Franklin County Common Pleas Court issued a temporary restraining order requested by families of two children, identified by the pseudonyms Madeline Moe and Grace Goe, who are in the midst of or considering hormonal treatments that would be disrupted by HB68 (Click). Lawmakers passed the law in December of 2023 then returned in January to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of the legislation. The ACLU of Ohio filed suit in late March to block its enforcement. It was due to take effect next week. Holbrook said he found “little doubt as to the irreparable nature of the actual physical injury to plaintiffs upon enforcement of the act. There is certainly a point where the changes to the body as a result of the progression of puberty cannot be reversed.”

Earlier on Monday, Ohio Department of Health (ODH) rules banning gender transition surgeries and referrals for minors had been cleared to move forward after Republicans on the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) voted against invalidating them. Numerous witnesses testified against the rules, and Democrats argued they should be invalidated for violating several JCARR prongs. JCARR had also been scheduled to consider ODH rules on reporting requirements for gender transition care, but those rules were placed in “to be refiled” status ahead of the meeting.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Ohio State University (OSU) President Ted Carter delivered his first “State of the University” address at the Ohio Union recently, marking his first 100 days as Ohio State’s 17th president. Carter discussed the history of the university, which opened in 1873 as the Ohio Agricultural and Technical College, touted its successes, and reviewed his vision for the university’s future. One of those areas of success is around research, Carter said. Last year, Emeritus OSU Professor Pierre Agostini was one of three individuals to be awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics for his study of electron dynamics in matter, making him the fifth Nobel Prize laureate in the history of Ohio State. Carter also noted, “I’m part of a small consortium of university presidents, and I’m the only Big 10 president right now, writing a strategy for the nation on higher education as a strategic asset. … I will submit to you, in the present, that only a few public land grant universities of our stature can turn this conversation around. And we have the people, we have the ambassadors, we have the backing of the Buckeye community that understands how important this part of our mission is.”

The University of Toledo (UT) announced plans to merge its College of Nursing and College of Health and Human Services into one college and to merge the College of Arts and Letters with the Judith Herb College of Education. Committees of faculty and staff from the colleges are being formed to work through the logistics of the proposed mergers during the upcoming school year. The goal is for the four colleges to become two colleges by the start of the 2025-26 academic year.

President Joe Biden recently released initial details of a new proposal that could bring the total number of borrowers eligible for some student debt forgiveness to over 30 million borrowers. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the plans in the coming week. In addition, Biden also announced $7.4 billion in debt cancellation for 277,000 borrowers, although Ohio joined several states in a lawsuit challenging the president’s Saving on A Valuable Education (SAVE) plan.

Lakeland Community College (LKCC) in Northeast Ohio is overstaffed and burdened with debt related to facilities that are significantly underused because of continued declines in student enrollment over the past decade, according to the Ohio Auditor of State. LKCC stands at the precipice of fiscal watch, the auditor’s office said, and administrators will have to make difficult decisions related to workforce, class and program offerings, and facilities to remain in operation. Auditor of State Keith Faber said, “LKCC’s trajectory is unsustainable.” The concerns, along with recommendations to address the downward enrollment trends, are included in a performance audit of LKCC released Tuesday by the auditor’s Performance Team, which reviews the operations of government agencies and programs and offers recommendations to improve their efficiency and effectiveness.

PENSIONS

Wade Steen retook the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) board seat from which Gov. Mike DeWine had ousted him last year in the middle of the board’s monthly meeting Thursday, after appellate judges ordered him to be reinstated, in line with the recommendation of their magistrate. After brief debate on whether to re-administer Steen’s oath and action on some routine items, STRS Board Chair Dale Price prompted an uproar from colleagues by hastily adjourning the meeting. DeWine’s office is urging an appeal of the court ruling. The 10th District Court of Appeals ruling came down as the board was in the midst of a meeting Thursday, which Steen replacement Brian Perera attended for the first part of the day. The appellate ruling came down as the board was heading into a lunchtime executive session, and upon their return about two hours later, Steen retook the seat. DeWine removed Steen about a year ago, citing his attendance record at meetings and perceived advocacy for specific investment managers. The move came at a crucial time for the balance of power on the board, after votes had been cast but before results were announced in an election for another board seat in which now-board member Pat Davidson defeated then-incumbent Arthur Lard. The board has been closely divided on the leadership direction at STRS.

STRS board members urged lobbying staff Thursday to emphasize potential savings to school districts from allowing teachers to retire earlier as they work to convince legislators to increase how much school districts pay into the pension fund. The STRS Board Legislative Committee held its inaugural meeting, along with a handful of other committees formed following recommendations from a fiduciary audit report that called for STRS trustees to handle more business at the committee level. Scott Hunt, designee of DEW’s Steve Dackin, was elected chair of the committee. STRS has been seeking legislative sponsors for a bill that would increase from 14 percent to 18 percent the share of salary that employers would contribute toward teachers’ retirement benefits. The Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) and Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F) are likewise seeking employer rate increases.

PUBLIC SAFETY

The Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio leads the DeWine administration’s new teen driver training grants with a quarter-million-dollar award among 35 school districts and governmental jurisdictions in 43 counties receiving funding for the Drive to Succeed Scholarship Program. A total of $2,495,655 will provide driver instruction to an estimated 5,500 teens from low-income families. The ESC of Eastern Ohio serves Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Other leading recipients include the ESC of Central Ohio in Franklin County ($168,000), Boardman Township Police Department in Mahoning County ($147,885), Knox Public Health Department in Knox County ($142,000), Akron Public Schools in Summit County ($134,00), Toledo Public Schools in Lucas County ($133,500), Bethel Tate Local Schools in Clermont County ($116,630) and Washington Local Schools in Lucas County ($111,250).

SOLAR ECLIPSE

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) told Hannah News statewide traffic rose by 12.8 percent on Sunday and 15.8 percent Tuesday compared to four-week averages for April and May 2023, saying that showed many visitors for the April 8 eclipse did what state officials encouraged by coming to their planned viewing locations early and staying late. “This was a major factor in Ohio’s not seeing the same traffic gridlock that impacted states in New England this year and states like Kentucky and Tennessee in 2017,” ODOT Press Secretary Matt Bruning said. Sgt. Tyler Ross, a member of the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) Public Affairs Unit, told Hannah News OSHP troopers saw an increase in traffic leading up to and on the day of the eclipse as expected.

More than 150,000 people viewed the Monday, April 8 total solar eclipse from one of Ohio’s state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves or forests, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Nearly 300 law enforcement officers were on duty around the state on Monday. Natural resources officers and wildlife officers were posted at some of the busiest locations along the path of totality. Other wildlife officers were able to monitor the state parks, nature preserves, and forests that were not in the path of totality.

STATE GOVERNMENT

The Ohio Facilities Construction Commissions (OFCC) Thursday highlighted the new Ohio Fire Academy Search and Rescue Training House in Reynoldsburg. The Ohio Fire Academy trains over 5,000 students annually, OFCC Project Manager Chris Frommeyer said. Frommeyer, who worked on the project, said the new training house has many innovations to allow firefighter students to train in as realistic conditions as possible. The structure features removable doors and windows designed specifically for forcible entry and search training as well as for students to train with different types of fires and construction materials to see how fires may differ depending on how they started and how a home is constructed. Members also approved additional updates to the Ohio School Design Manual (OSDM).

New OFCC Executive Director Joy DeMarco reported that of the 13 school districts with an issue on the ballot in March, only one was successful — Kings Local School District in Warren County. Four of them plan to return to the ballot in November, she said. DeMarco reported $2.63 billion in FY24 project activity as of February 2024 for 315 projects in design and construction.

WORKFORCE

The House Commerce and Labor Committee heard testimony from a former Trump administration official and trades groups’ leaders in support of a bill to set E-Verify requirements for certain employers. HB327 (Wiggam-Swearingen) would require political subdivisions, private employers with 75 employees or more and nonresidential construction contractors to verify each new employee’s work eligibility through the federal E-Verify program. The contractor provision also applies to subcontractors and any tradesperson assigned to work on the project. Joseph Edlow, who has held several executive and legislative branch positions regarding immigration enforcement including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ deputy director for policy, effectively an acting director position, spoke on behalf of the organization NumbersUSA. He explained how the E-Verify system works quickly and presented statistics on its accuracy, saying nearly 43 million employees were checked for eligibility during FY23 and it automatically confirmed work authorization for 98.24 percent.

 

Posted by on April 21st, 2024

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