Tom Zawistoski addresses the article “HB 413 Uses Controlling Board to Shut Statehouse Doors to Accountability and Public Debate on State Achievement Tests” in his April 23rd radio podcast of “Tea Party Talk with Tom.”  The article raises the issue of the Ohio Assembly’s reliance on the Controlling Board to pass major policy initiatives, and thus avoid public accountability.

HB 413 delays the controversial Common Core PARCC tests and calls on the Controlling Board to approve recommendations for new state achievement tests that are to be submitted to the House and Senate Education Committees by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).

Tom assures listeners that the use of the Controlling Board to approve tests, which will ultimately influence the education curriculum in Ohio, is standard operating procedure.  Tom states in the podcast,

“The Controlling Board is involved with all contracts of a certain size that get passed in Ohio.  So no matter what we do as far as testing the Controlling Board would have a role in that, but it’s not a decision making role.  Ok. That’s not what they do.  What this bill talks about is that it gives the Controlling Board a little bit more ability to reject the contract because it asks them or makes them basically look at what the Senate and House Education Committees have said they want.  And if a contract comes across the Controlling Board’s desk for approval, and it doesn’t match up with what the Senate and House Education Committees have said that they wanted done, they can then reject it.  And that’s a power they haven’t had before.  Ok.  So it’s not like the Controlling Board is going to make this decision.  I don’t want you thinking that’s going on, but they’ve got more power to make sure that whatever comes across their desk fits with what the legislator wants to do, legislative branch wants to do, and that’s what we want them to do.”  (23 minute mark in podcast)

Such an explanation seems to imply that the Controlling Board is merely a second set of eyes making sure all contracts follow the legislative intent of the Ohio Assembly, and that the authority to ensure compliance with legislative goals is some sort of new duty of the Board.

The reality is the Controlling Board has always been bound to follow legislative intent as stated in ORC 127.17.  The problem with HB 413 is that it does not allow for legislative intent on state achievement tests to be established in the first place since the bill does not call for a vote by the General Assembly on the make-up of the tests.

Let’s look at what the bill does call for.  HB 413 prohibits the administration of the PARCC tests for the 2014-15 school year, asks the ODE to develop and submit new recommendations for state achievement tests to the General Assembly, requests the ODE to present the recommendations to the House and Senate Education Committees in a public hearing, and calls on the Controlling Board to consider whether to approve the tests.  Nothing in the bill speaks to an up or down vote by the General Assembly on the test recommendations of the ODE.  Only a public hearing is called for after which time the legislators wash their hands of the issue and quietly let the Controlling Board make the decision.  Section 2 of HB 413 reads,

“…the Department of Education shall develop recommendations for the assessments…The Department shall submit the recommendations to the General Assembly…and shall present the recommendations to the standing committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate that consider education legislation at a public hearing.  After the recommendations of the Department are presented to those committees, the recommendations shall be considered for approval by the Controlling Board.  No assessment recommended by the Department shall be administered unless it is approved by the Controlling Board.”  (Emphasis added.)

In the scenario envisioned in Section 2, no citizen will ever know how the Ohio Assembly stands on the issue of new state achievement tests.  Nor will any citizen ever know whether their own representative supports or opposes the tests, or know how the Republican and Democrat parties stand on the issue.  And since public debate is limited and tightly controlled in Controlling Board proceedings, legislators and citizens will have a little opportunity to influence the ultimate make-up of the tests.

As with the Controlling Board’s approval of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, legislative intent and accountability is tossed aside in HB 413 in favor of rule by the few and the obscure.  The only difference is that with HB 413, the legislature will have skirted itself rather than the Governor doing the skirting.

Tom Zawistoski indicates HB 413 is an effort by its sponsors, Reps. Andrew Brenner and Peter Stautberg, to rein in Common Core.  While the bill will require the ODE and the Ohio Assembly to take another look at the issue of Common Core state achievement tests, there is no assurance in the bill that the controversial PARCC tests will ever be abandoned.  And divorcing Assembly members from accountability on the issue, may actually lower the likelihood of halting the PARCC tests.

Finally, the idea presented in Tom’s podcast that State Superintendent Richard Ross holds all the keys to Common Core implementation in Ohio is not entirely the case.  Superintendent Ross is certainly a major player, but state legislators can rid Ohio of Common Core by supporting Representative Andy Thompson’s Substitute Common Core Repeal Bill, HB 237, which is currently stalled in committee.

As of this writing, Common Core opponents are looking to House Education Committee Chairman Gerald Stebelton to schedule a third hearing on HB 237.  Ohioans concerned about Common Core can call Chairman Stebelton at 614-466-8100 and urge him to move HB 237 forward.

Common Core with its accompanying PARCC tests is one of the more controversial issues facing Ohioans today.  The public cannot rest assured that the General Assembly has acted in the best interests of the students of Ohio unless full transparency as called for in the Ohio Constitution is followed.