Week in Review > Week in Review 6-12-23

Posted by on June 12th, 2023

ATTORNEY GENERAL

The Ohio Attorney General’s (AG) Office Friday rejected the petition summary of a proposed constitutional amendment titled “Protecting Ohioans’ Constitutional Rights,” which seeks to add a Section 22 to Article I of the Ohio Constitution. The petitioners originally submitted the summary under the title “Civil Action for Deprivation of Constitutional Rights” on May 3, 2021, and again on Aug. 23, 2021. They then submitted it under the title “The Ohio Civil Liberties Restoration Act” on Nov. 22, 2022, and under the title “Protecting Ohioans’ Constitutional Rights” on Feb. 27, 2023. All of these previous submissions were rejected. A response letter sent to the petitioners says, “We identified omissions and misstatements that, as a whole, would mislead a potential signer as to the actual scope and effect of the proposed amendment.”

AUDITOR OF STATE

Auditor of State Keith Faber’s survey to 1,108 school fiscal officers seeking information on their financial support of the EdChoice voucher lawsuit drew only 417 responses, Faber spokesperson Marc Kovac said Tuesday. Schools were asked to respond by Friday, June 2. The auditor’s office has now distributed a follow-up survey, and is asking for responses by Friday, June 9. Kovac noted the following preliminary results in an email:

– 335 schools responded “no” on whether they are supporting the litigation.

– 35 schools responded “yes” on whether they are supporting the litigation.

– 47 schools responded “unsure” on whether they are supporting the litigation.

– 691 schools did not respond.

BALLOT ISSUES

Ohio Business Roundtable (OBRT) President and CEO Pat Tiberi told reporters Monday that while the OBRT has been concerned with the level that “out-of-state interests” had access to the ballot historically, its members have “chosen to stay out of” the Issue 1 matter “because of the other issues” related to it.

Asked about abortion specifically, he said OBRT doesn’t get involved in “social issues” and though some people will say that is not one, “it certainly has become about social issues.” Contrary to OBRT, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) support the 60 percent amendment, with the chamber’s board voting to take “no position” on the potential November reproductive rights issue.

Defending the Ohio Ballot Board from a lawsuit challenging ballot language and the ballot title for State Issue 1, which will appear on the Tuesday, Aug. 8 special election ballot, Attorney General Dave Yost argued that an error in how “eligible voters” are described in the language is not material enough for the Court to order a rewrite of the language. One Person One Vote, the opposition group to Issue 1, filed the lawsuit challenging the language adopted along party lines by the board during a May meeting, arguing that the language and title violate legal standards established by the Ohio Revised Code and the Ohio Constitution as well as Ohio Supreme Court precedent. In a reply brief filed Friday, Yost said the language accurately reflects the changes to the Constitution that the amendment, if passed, would make.

FY22-23 BUDGET

Incomes taxes generated more than $200 million above expected collections in May, bearing out the Office of Budget and Management’s explanation that an April miss of about $120 million was mostly a matter of timing, according to preliminary revenue figures released this week. The monthly report puts Ohio’s FY23 overage at more than $840 million as lawmakers enter the final month of deliberations on the FY24-25 biennial budget. May’s income tax collections reached $1 billion versus expectations of $759.6 million, nearly $242 million or 31.9 percent more than expected.

FY24-25 BUDGET

The Senate would further flatten Ohio’s income tax structure to two brackets from the current four and the House’s three, while eliminating some school funding guarantees and granting at least partial EdChoice scholarships to all comers, under a substitute version of HB33 (Edwards) adopted by the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday. The Senate version would also reform how Ohio uses surpluses going forward, with an increased cap for the Rainy Day Fund and the conversion of automated income tax cut mechanisms into an expanded sales tax holiday. The Senate sub bill proposes state-only GRF spending of $27.5 billion in FY24 and $28.9 billion in FY25, respectively $691 million and $770 million lower than the House-passed version. Total GRF funding — $41.5 billion and $45.4 billion — is down $1.35 billion and $1.27 billion compared to the House version. All Funds spending — $94.18 billion and $94.89 billion — is down by $2.88 billion and $919.7 million. Finance Chair Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) outlined the budget plan as spanning four major funding sources: ongoing General Revenue Fund (GRF) spending, GRF surplus, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA.)

Senate changes also would tighten the State Appropriation Limitation (SAL), which is meant to curb growth in state spending. The substitute bill lowers the growth factor from 3.5 percent to 3 percent and eliminates an alternative growth factor based on population growth and inflation, and specifies that the SAL encompasses more appropriations, including appropriations made to another fund supported by cash transfers from the GRF.

In education, Dolan and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said they’ve retained the base cost calculations and the House-added FY22 cost inputs for the Cupp-Patterson formula, but are proposing to eliminate two guarantees. The Senate expanded further the executive and House versions’ moves to increase voucher eligibility, providing for universal eligibility for EdChoice, but with reductions in scholarship amounts for higher-income families. Any student from a family earning up to 450 percent of poverty would qualify for a full scholarship of $6,165 for K-8 and $8,407 for high school, but scholarship amounts would gradually reduce as family income rises, with a minimum scholarship of 10 percent of the full amount for the highest earners. DeWine’s introduced budget raised income eligibility to 400 percent of poverty, and the House boosted that to 450 percent.

The sub bill also increases the cap on revenue that can be put into the Rainy Day Fund from 8.5 percent of revenues to 10 percent.

County engineers appeared before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday opposing language inserted by the Senate into the proposed FY24-25 budget that would remove the requirement that county engineers be both a registered professional engineer and a professional surveyor. The issue has come up over several sessions and county engineers have appeared before lawmakers in the past to push back on it, arguing that the requirement in current law needs to be maintained due to the office’s duties. The substitute version of HB33 removes the requirement that a county engineer be a registered surveyor. It also allows the engineer to contract with private surveyors as needed.

EDUCATION

Attorney General (AG) Dave Yost won’t issue the formal legal opinion requested by the State Board of Education (SBOE) on the constitutionality of a measure to strip most of the board’s powers, saying that would tread on the proper role of other government branches. At the May board meeting, members voted 13-4 to ask Yost for an opinion on how SB1 (Reineke) and HB12 (Jones-Dobos) comport with the Ohio Constitution. The SBOE was established as an independent body by voters via constitutional amendment in the 1950s, although the amendment specifies that the board’s powers and duties are left to lawmakers to determine. Under both bills, the board and state superintendent would lose most of their powers to a renamed Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), which would be led by a cabinet director appointed by the governor. As of Tuesday, language of SB1 is now incorporated into the pending biennial budget bill, HB33 (Edwards).

State-funded preschool partially recovered last year from the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, but longstanding problems in early education persisted, according to the 2022 State of Preschool Yearbook, which was released recently by Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). While enrollment grew, the report found preschool access remained below pre-pandemic levels, inadequate funding, and that quality standards failed to improve. The annual report showed substantial year-over-year gains in enrollment — a 13 percent increase in the number of children in state-funded preschool in 2021-2022 with 180,668 more preschoolers enrolled than in the prior school year, and growth in nearly every state. Despite this, preschool enrollment was still down by 8 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels, from the high of 1.66 million in 2019-2020 to 1.53 million in 2021-2022. Thirty-two percent of 4-year-olds and 6 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool in 2021-22. Adding in Head Start and Early Childhood Special Education, public preschool enrollment was 41 percent at age 4 and 17 percent at age 3.

Differences of hundreds of millions of dollars in proposed spending for both traditional K-12 districts and EdChoice vouchers highlight the contrasting priorities for education finance between the House and Senate budget drafts, school funding expert Howard Fleeter said Wednesday in an address to the City Club of Cleveland. Meanwhile, Fleeter published research through the Ohio Education Policy Institute (OEPI) earlier in the week showing how voucher changes in the past several years have shifted the type of children using the scholarship programs. Fleeter was complimentary of the fact that senators stuck with the House’s decision to update cost inputs to use FY22 data, but said his initial impression is that the reductions in the Senate version as compared to the House version stem from a change in how state and local share are calculated.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted reiterated their budget proposals on higher education Monday in a press conference at the Ohio Business Roundtable (OBRT) office and were joined by OBRT President Pat Tiberi. The three specifically focused on how the proposals, including creation of merit-based scholarships and expansion of the Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG), can help fill current and future workforce needs. DeWine’s OCOG proposal would make 15,000 more students eligible by raising the income threshold to $87,000 so it is available to the “working middle class” for the first time. The maximum amount would increase to $6,000 per student as well.

Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) President Eric W. Kaler Monday announced plans for a roughly 200,000 square-foot research building. Estimated to cost $300 million, the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building (ISEB) represents the university’s largest-ever Case Quad project. Research in the new building will aim to address issues like climate change, applications of artificial intelligence and multiple aspects of improving health outcomes, such as reducing health disparities. The structure will offer spaces for researchers with complementary expertise to work together in order to encourage interdisciplinary work.

Sarah “Sally” Ross Soter and the Soter Kay Foundation recently pledged $15 million to the Ohio State University (OSU) College of Medicine to establish the Sarah Ross Soter Women’s Health Research Program. The funding will create a multidisciplinary research hub focused on new therapies to prevent and treat diseases that disproportionately affect women. It will include new and expanded engagement programs to better reach women from underrepresented communities.

The House Higher Education Committee Wednesday approved legislation to establish the Foster-to-College Scholarship Program. Co-sponsored by Reps. Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), HB164 would appropriate $7.5 million in both FY24 and FY25 for the program aimed at awarding scholarships to Ohio youth who have spent some of their teenage years in the foster care program. The bill requires the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to hire a full-time foster care liaison to work with public children’s services agencies and others to provide services to foster youth related to school placement. In addition, it requires the chancellor of higher education to employ four full-time foster care student navigators to assist students in applying and enrolling in the program and colleges and universities.

Groups representing various school officials and counselors Wednesday praised legislation that would update the College Credit Plus (CCP) program based on a state audit, saying it will improve student access and outcomes, but also made a few suggested changes beyond what is currently in the bill, including the funding of a coordinator to handle the program duties in each district. The Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee received an overview of the changes in SB104 (Cirino-Brenner) from Tom Hancock, the legislative director for Auditor of State Keith Faber, who said the bill is an effort to address the program improvement recommendations identified in the office’s performance audit of CCP. He said the program, which was created in 2015 to increase participation in dual enrollment programming with minimal or no cost to the student, has largely achieved that initial objective. He noted that the number of credit hours taken in the final year of CCP’s predecessor was approximately 190,000 hours, while CCP had more than 650,000 hours taken during the 2021 academic year.

JUDICIAL

In a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for K-12 education, the Ohio Supreme Court will determine whether the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) supersedes collective bargaining agreements between unions and school districts and whether classroom observation disputes instead raise unfair labor practices under the sole jurisdiction of the State Employee Relations Board (SERB).

Posted by on June 12th, 2023

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