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Youngstown schools will remain under control of commission

YOUNGSTOWN — The Ohio Senate approved a last-minute amendment to the state’s EdChoice legislation, known as House Bill 9, that would allow the academic distress commission now governing Lorain City Schools to dissolve — but would leave the Youngstown and East Cleveland schools under the control of their commissions.

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, criticized the effort that may allow Lorain schools to be removed from commission oversight, but will leave Youngstown and East Cleveland commissions intact.

The amendment happened as the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday voted on several changes to be made on the state’s EdChoice voucher program, before the program doubles the number of public schools that could lose state funding because students will be allowed to transfer to private schools.

The number of schools affected by EdChoice will increase from 526 this year to about 1,250 in the next school year, if nothing is changed before Saturday.

Schools from around the state protested the expansion of the voucher program that allow state funds originally geared for students attending public schools to be redirected to private schools. State law allows parents of students in public school districts, under specific circumstances, to transfer the state funding designated for their child’s education to private schools.

Some officials pointed to problems with the state report card system, which is used to grade schools and helps determine EdChoice eligibility. They noted instances where a low grade in a single category got public schools added to the list even though they, or their districts, were rated as high-performing overall.

The House rejected that proposal Wednesday, leaving a committee of lawmakers from both chambers trying to work toward an agreement.

During the debate of the EdChoice program, state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, introduced an amendment that proposed changing the rules affecting school districts currently under academic distress commissions.

The change states if a district did not get an “F” on the 2018-2019 state report card, its commission would be dissolved. However, of the three, only Lorain’s state report card grade increased to a “D,” which allows its distress commission to be dissolved under the change.

Youngstown schools have a CEO in place answering to its academic distress commission, rather than the elected school board, in a long-term effort to improve academic performance.

In response to the amendment’s passage, Lepore-Hagan sent letters to members of the HB 9 conference committee arguing all the commissions should be dissolved.

“As a member of the HB9 conference committee, you have the power to free them by either expanding the amendment to include the Youngstown public schools and the East Cleveland public schools or by attaching House Bill 154 as it passed the House as an amendment,” Lepore-Hagan wrote. “I implore you to seize this opportunity to do the right thing, the very best thing, for our kids, our schools, our communities and our state.”

The Ohio House passed a version of HB 154 in 2019 by a vote of 83 to 12 that eliminated all academic distress commissions. It was changed, however, in the Ohio Senate Education Committee. The full Ohio Senate has not taken a vote on its version of HB 154.

Manning said he remains supportive of eliminating academic distress commissions around the state and would support making HB 154 an attachment affecting all three of the districts. If he has to choose between his amendment or HB 154, however, he said his responsibility is to the Lorain school district.

“It is the only district of the three that did not get an ‘F’ on the most recent report card,” Manning said. “I have to do what is best for my school district.

“This happened pretty quickly,” Manning said. “I did not have the opportunity to talk to representatives from East Cleveland or Youngstown.”

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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