Would Ohio do well to consolidate three education-related agencies into one big Department of Learning and Achievement? Cliff Rosenberger thinks so. The House speaker sees the merger of the departments of Education, Higher Education and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation as “a huge piece” in strengthening the state’s “foundation.”
State Rep. Bill Reineke, a Tiffin Republican and the sponsor of House Bill 512, argues the consolidation would allow the state to realign its education offices with the objectives of improving responsiveness, achieving efficiencies and better preparing the workforce in an ever-changing economy. He cites the change as key to reaching the goal of 65 percent of Ohioans by 2025 having some type of higher education certificate or degree. (Currently, the share is 43 percent.)
The proposal echoes the pitch that John Kasich has been making to give the governor more authority in shaping and implementing education policy. The governor would appoint the director of the new department. The State Board of Education would play a diminished role.
In theory, much of that makes sense. Giving the governor a stronger hand would clarify lines of accountability. Who can argue with making government more nimble, quick and effective?
What Rosenberger and Reineke must show is how their idea would deliver in the concrete. In that way, Peggy Lehner, the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, brings fitting skepticism to the discussion. If the speaker wants to win passage by the spring, Lehner rightly noted the absence of adequate stakeholder input. That conversation promises to get at the unexpected pitfalls, barriers and other challenges.
More, there’s no guarantee that bigger is better. Large organizations may be vulnerable to embedded bureaucracies, or another version of the fragmentation the bill seeks to overcome.
So, the idea deserves exploration. The evaluation also requires the care Lehner has in mind.