Ohio education bill, transgender athlete ban die in House

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The latest proposal to give Ohio’s governor more power overseeing K-12 education cleared the state Senate with a ban on transgender student-athletes in girls sports — but hit a roadblock hours later when the legislation fell several votes short of passage in the House early Thursday.

The bill is effectively dead, but could be taken up again in the next legislative session.

Democrats gave a burst of applause after the vote count was announced at about 2:30 a.m. They had objected to the changes, and complained that majority Republicans were rushing the legislation through.

The ban on transgender student-athletes, in particular, has been a goal of Republican-dominated legislatures nationwide. Currently, 18 states ban transgender students from participating in school sports, according to the nonprofit think tank Movement Advancement Project.

Although the late-night negotiations still garnered too much disagreement among GOP lawmakers to get the bill passed this session, there’s still a chance for the bill’s reintroduction after a new, even more Republican General Assembly is sworn in come January.

Currently, the GOP controls 64 seats of the 99-seat General Assembly. That number will increase to 67 next month, when Republicans who were victorious in last month’s election are sworn in.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine had voiced support for overhauling education oversight but had questioned the need for banning transgender student-athletes, saying that matter is best handled by leagues and athletic associations.

That part of the legislation says no school or athletic conference “shall permit individuals of the male sex to participate on athletic teams or in athletic competitions designated only for participants of the female sex.”

The Ohio High School Athletic Association has maintained that there’s no evidence of a problem posed by transgender girls competing in sports, and the number of such participants is very small.

Lawmakers merged the proposed ban with what had been a separate proposal to shift oversight of the state’s education department from the State Board of Education and the superintendent it elects to a director appointed by the governor. It also would transfer many of the state school board’s powers to the department’s new director, resulting in significant changes to decision-making about academic standards, model curricula and school district ratings, among other things.

Supporters said the changes would promote more accountability and transparency than the current structure, which they say is bogged down with political infighting among school board members and has been too slow to address issues such as the drop in student achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But opponents, including the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said giving more control to the governor’s office would add partisanship to the oversight of education across the state.

Another provision added late in the process would have prohibited schools from discriminating against children because of their COVID vaccination status. It wouldn’t change existing laws regarding other required vaccines.

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Associated Press writer Kantele Franko contributed to this report.

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Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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