As the career and technology superintendents told one committee last Wednesday why they supported the merger proposed in House Bill 512 — a bill that the Buckeye Association of School Administrators opposes — technical centers were benefiting from an unusual legislative move in the hearing room next door.
That morning, House Bill 166 was amended — or, more accurately, rewritten — to give technical centers perks they had been seeking for more than a year.
The revised House Bill 166 categorizes technical centers as higher-education institutions, allowing adults to qualify for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant and giving the schools access to some state grant programs.
Both bills are sponsored by Rep. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, a member of the House leadership.
Reineke and Will Vorys, a lobbyist for the Ohio Association of Career-Technical Superintendents, both said the timing was coincidental and the bills have no connection.
Reineke said he has been working on career-tech issues for four years.
“We’re trying to help (the schools) help these adults get scholarships or grants so they can get retrained for the workplace. There’s absolutely nothing combining the two” bills, Reineke said. He added that he was offended that anyone would suggest otherwise. “Careertech is one of my passions because we need these jobs so badly.”
Outside of Reineke and
Kasich administration officials, most of the testimony in favor of the merger bill came over two weeks from career centers: PickawayRoss, Tri-County, Delaware Area, Scioto County, Apollo (Allen County), Penta (Wood County), and Grant (Clermont County).
Those testifying against the proposal include homeschooling parents and advocates of traditional public education — teachers, superintendents and school boards.
Supporters of charter schools are divided: The Fordham Institute supports the bill, while the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education opposes it.
Although career-tech superintendents have testified in favor of the merger, Jay Smith, director of legislative services of the Ohio School Boards Association, said he knows of no career-tech board that has passed a resolution supporting it. He said he has talked to career-tech board members who agree with his group’s opposition.
Before last week, House Bill 166 was considered dead legislation; its workforcedevelopment pieces were passed as parts of other bills.
But Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, chairman of the House Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee, said Reineke and Vorys asked him recently to swap out House Bill 166’s text for new language. Duffey said he was told the issue wasn’t controversial.
“Sometimes you should know better when people tell you that something is not controversial,” he said.
Duffey said he shared the new proposal with groups that included community colleges and the Inter-University Council, and they raised concerns.
“We have a lot of questions on the ramifications,” said Tom Walsh, vice president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges.
Technical centers fall under the Department of Higher Education but are not post-secondary institutions. Changing that would open access to funding for new initiatives and show acceptance on the same level as community and technical colleges, said Bill Bussey, director of the Technical Center Division of the Ohio Association of CareerTechnical Superintendents.
Walsh said the bill raises questions about process, accreditation, reporting and tuition caps.
“It’s a pretty big, substantive change to define a whole new entity as public institutions of higher education,” he said. “No one ever talked to us about this. It’s just raised a lot of questions about what’s their goal and what is the impact.”
Duffey and others also question the impact of broadening access to the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, the state’s only needbased financial aid.
“If you add 1,000 students to an ecosystem, then it changes the award amount to all the other students,” Duffey said.
Reineke said it all relates to his goals. “We’re just trying to retrain people for the workforce.”
But passage of House Bill 166 is in doubt. “Right now, I don’t think it has a very strong likelihood of getting out of committee,” Duffey said.