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Ohio state school board head warns of looming $2 million deficit after GOP overhaul

The State Board of Education's new leader said it could be in a multi-million dollar deficit by the summer, which would be just a year after GOP lawmakers shifted most of its duties away from the majority-elected body to a state agency led by a member of Gov. Mike DeWine’s cabinet.

In his first month on the job, Paul Craft, the superintendent of public instruction hired by the board, told members at its January meeting he didn’t see a way to cut through budgetary woes on their own—meaning they’d need to go to the legislature.

“We literally, as we get into that June timeframe, will probably not be able to make payroll,” Craft said. “That's worrisome. Maybe and if we're very, very careful, maybe that can be July, maybe that can be August.”

Board member Meryl Johnson told Craft she felt it was clear the state legislature was trying to liquidate the board. “So basically, House Bill 33 left us without enough funding to do our job?“ Johnson asked Craft, to which he said 'yes.'

Although an earlier version of House Bill 33, the state budget, would have gotten them through at least the next three years, Craft said that cushion was cut from the final version.

Dan Tierney, a spokesperson for DeWine, said it’s vital for the board to right-size itself.

“Each agency has to live within their budget,” Tierney said.

It wasn’t allotted more money, he said, because its workers and workload have begun to move over to the rebranded Department of Education and Workforce. Following the overhaul, the department has taken oversight of education and workforce policy, while the board retained control of the licensure process.

The only analog for the state to go off of, Tierney said, was when Republican former Gov. John Kasich made the Department of Medicaid its own office in 2014. Before then, it fell under the Department of Jobs and Family Services umbrella.

In October 2023, a Franklin County court order initially delayed that transition, after seven Democratic members of the board sued to block it. But a later decision allowed the transition to go forward, though the lawsuit continues.