Legislative Watch – October 3, 2023

Redistricting Commission Approves New Legislative Maps

On Tuesday, September 26, 2023, the Ohio Redistricting Commission approved new legislative districts for the Ohio House and Ohio Senate. These district maps, if upheld, will be used in the upcoming 2024 election. Additionally, because the proposal received bipartisan support, the maps will remain in effect until after the 2030 census unless the current redistricting process is changed.

The approved maps give a massive advantage to Republicans, with 61 of 99 House districts and 23 of 33 Senate districts favoring Republican candidates. This represents even larger majorities than the districts used in 2022 which were ruled unconstitutional for disproportionately favoring one party. However, Democratic members of the Commission voted in favor of the new maps after securing some changes to those initially proposed. The prevailing thought is that new maps are likely to be upheld given changes on the Ohio Supreme Court since the last election.

Approval of these legislative districts happened against the backdrop of a planned campaign for a new constitutional amendment to take the redistricting process out of the hands of politicians altogether. A group called Citizens Not Politicians is planning an initiative campaign for the 2024 ballot that would replace the Ohio Redistricting Commission with a bipartisan commission of citizens tasked with drawing state legislative and congressional districts. The proposal is based on the premise that voters should pick their politicians, not the other way around. The OEA Board of Directors officially endorsed the Citizens Not Politicians ballot campaign at its September 23, 2023, meeting. More information about the campaign may be found here.

U.S. Senator Brown Introduces Legislation to Increase Federal Educator Tax Deduction; OEA and NEA Officially Endorse Brown’s Re-election

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) recently introduced the Educators Expense Deduction Modernization Act, bipartisan legislation that seeks to quadruple the amount educators can deduct from their taxes for out-of-pocket classroom expenses. The current federal deduction for teachers is $250 and would increase to $1,000 under the legislation.

Senator Brown stated the following on the legislation, “Ohio educators shouldn’t have to dip into their too-small paychecks simply to do their jobs. We need to allow teachers to deduct more of those costs from their taxes, so they can ensure Ohio students get the education they deserve.” Please click here to read a press release from Senator Brown’s office on the proposal.

OEA and NEA are pleased to be supporting the bill.  It is also endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

The OEA Fund (for Children and Public Education) State Council (which is comprised of the OEA Officers, representatives from the OEA District Associations, the Board of Directors, and OEA-R) screened and recommended to the NEA PAC Council the endorsement of Senator Sherrod Brown in his re-election bid to the U.S. Senate next year. On Thursday, September 21, 2023, the NEA PAC Council confirmed the OEA-Fund State Council’s recommendation. Please note that all declared candidates from both major parties were invited to screen before the OEA Fund State Council, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown was the only candidate to respond to the invite to screen.

Substitute SB 49 Would Rework Ohio Law Regarding Excused Student Absences

The Ohio House Primary and Secondary Education Committee is now considering a new version of SB 49 (R-Reynolds) that reworks Ohio law governing excused student absences and makes changes to how the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate is calculated on state report cards. The previous version of SB 49, as passed by the Ohio Senate, had been limited to providing students up to three excused absences for religious expression days. Religious expression days remain part of substitute SB 49 as a “legitimate excuse” for student absences. OEA is reviewing the changes to the bill.

The substitute version of SB 49 introduces several changes related to school attendance and graduation reporting:

  • It prevents schools from counting the first 60 hours of a student’s nonmedical legitimate excuse absences in a school year when determining excessive absences but requires them to count the 61st hour and subsequent hours as excessive absences.
  • It allows students absent for religious expression days to participate in interscholastic athletics on those days, with other absences for legitimate excuses subject to the school’s discretion regarding athletic participation.
  • The first 60 hours of legitimate excuse absences are considered excused and not factored into habitual truancy determinations.
  • “Legitimate excuse” is defined as an approved reason for a student’s absence, including illness, family illness, quarantine, death of a relative, medical appointments, religious expression days, college visits, military enlistment reporting, foster care placement, student homelessness, deployment activities of a parent, guardian, or custodian, 4-H and FFA activities, exceptional farm work, family business inability to employ help, and other circumstances determined by school officials as good and sufficient cause for absence.
  • The Department of Education and Workforce cannot include absences with legitimate excuses when calculating the state report card’s chronic absenteeism indicator for schools.
  • The four-year adjusted cohort graduate rate is changed from a performance measure factored into the state report card’s Graduation component to report-only data that doesn’t affect the performance rating.
  • A new performance measure, a four-year graduation measure, is established for the state report card’s Graduation component. It’s calculated similarly to the adjusted cohort graduation rate but excludes students with IEPs who qualify for a diploma but choose not to receive one and continue receiving education services.

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