By DENISE GRANT
Two Ohio Senate candidates aired their views about state education policy on Monday during a legislative roundtable discussion hosted by the Findlay-Hancock County Chamber of Commerce.
Newly-appointed state Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, attended the session, as did Craig Kupferberg of Findlay, who is competing with McColley in the Republican primary election in May.
Legislative roundtables are hosted each quarter by the chamber to foster discussion about business policies and the state economy. The meetings are free and open to the public. A total of 13 people attended Monday’s event.
McColley was asked specifically about House Bill 512, which was introduced earlier this year in an effort to better coordinate kindergarten through postsecondary education policy in Ohio.
The bill would create a new agency, combining most of the duties of the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation. Ohio’s governor would then appoint the leader of the new agency.
While McColley said more needs to be done to improve workforce development, he doesn’t support the bill. He said private schools and homeschoolers are very concerned about it.
“They look at this and say if we get a governor who is against homeschoolers, who is against private schools and parochial schools, who is against school choice, then it really is going to make their lives a lot more difficult,” he said.
McColley said lawmakers in Columbus should focus more on “decentralizing” power and returning it to local school boards.
Kupferberg, a retired assistant superintendent and principal for Findlay City Schools, is challenging McColley for the Republican nomination in the Ohio Senate District 1 race.
He expressed frustration with state intervention in many areas of public education, and said that’s why he threw his “hat into the ring.”
“There are lots of different ways the state Legislature gets in the way of the public schools preparing students for careers,” Kupferberg said. “First of all, we have an unconstitutional funding system that has been ruled unconstitutional four times.”
In 2013, when state lawmakers canceled the state tax rollback program, it made schools even more dependent on property taxes, which the courts have said creates disparity in school funding, Kupferberg said.
Ohio had been paying the first 10 percent of the tax bill for property owners, and an additional 2.5 percent of the bill for owner-occupied homes. When the program was canceled, the tax rollbacks continued for existing levies, but any new or renewal levies no longer receive the subsidy.
Kupferberg also questioned the constant changes in Ohio’s high school graduation requirements.
Current graduation requirements were developed by public university presidents in an attempt to head more students toward Ohio’s public universities, Kupferberg said.
In the past five years, he said, Ohio has lost 13 percent of its undergraduate population at public universities. He said that translates into 52,000 students and “billions of dollars.”
“I’ve come to understand that we turned it over to university presidents to try and bridge that gap,” he said.
He said the graduation requirements aren’t manageable.
“It’s directing kids toward college, and you … said not every kid needs to go to college, at least not right away. They’re not motivated to do that,” Kupferberg said to McColley.
“Our kids are accumulating graduation debt that is hurting our economy,” Kupferberg said. “It’s hurting all of us, and part of it is because we’re putting them in the position that we’re trying to force them into a four-year university. Those (high school) graduation requirements are such a disaster, we got rid of them for the class of 2018, and for 2019 and 2020, as well. I don’t know why the state is doing these kind of things.”
McColley said many of the changes start out as “well-intentioned ideas,” but in practice, create other problems.
“There’s a lot that needs done in our education system. A lot of things that need to be improved upon,” McColley said. “… I’m starting to see a lot more focus on it. I know it is something that needs to get fixed and get fixed quickly.”
McColley, previously a state representative, was appointed to the Senate seat in November after it was vacated by former state Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay. Hite resigned after admitting “inappropriate behavior” with a state employee.
McColley, 33, is now seeking election to the post, and will face two challengers in the Republican primary: Kupferberg, 59, and Robert D. Barker Jr., 53, of Van Wert.
The winner will compete in November with Democrat Adam Papin, 36, of Bryan, who is unopposed in his party’s primary.
The 1st Senate District includes all of Henry, Putnam, Williams, Defiance, Paulding, Hancock, Van Wert and Hardin counties; the southeastern corner of Fulton County; and northern sections of Auglaize and Logan counties.