From $2,000 back-to-school grants to campus free speech protections, sweeping bipartisan legislation that will change Ohio’s public universities and community colleges is headed for the governor.
“We’ve come a long way on this comprehensive reform legislation that touches on almost every aspect of academic operation at an institution…” Ohio Intercollegiate Council Chairman Bruce Johnson said. “I commend the sponsor for their desire to make changes.”
But Johnson didn’t always feel that way about Senate Bill 135.
“The IUC started asking for my head on a platter when I introduced this bill,” said Republican Senator Jerry Cirino, sponsor of the bill.
But rather than double down on his original draft, Cirino tweaked, cut and rewrote the legislation until it passed the House unanimously 87-0 and 31-1 in the Senate. Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, was the only no.
Here is what the SB 135 would do:
Second Chance Scholarship Program
When Cirino introduced the bill in March 2021, the Kirtland Republican wanted public colleges and universities in Ohio to provide partial refunds to students who left school without a degree.
The idea was to bring these “interrupted students” back into the classroom by allowing them to redo their tuition in other courses or in another trade school or certificate program.
“Our modeling showed it would be very, very expensive,” Cirino said.
So he turned to a pilot project passed in Ohio’s two-year budget that gave $2,000 scholarships to students who had been out of class for at least three semesters. Lawmakers funded the pilot project with $3 million, and SB 135 will make the program permanent.
Students must be Ohio residents who have de-enrolled in good standing, not enrolled in another college or business program in another state, and re-enroll within five years.
The bill also prohibits schools from withholding transcripts because of student debt.
“We’re really excited,” Cirino said, adding that around 300 students have already applied through the pilot program.
Freedom of expression complaints
SB 135 would require public institutions of higher education to create formal complaint systems where students, groups or faculty could submit alleged free speech violations.
“If a student in a class feels their teacher is being too liberal and is concerned about the impact of their speaking on their grades, I wanted to have a process for them,” Cirino said. “Most college students aren’t going to go out and hire a First Amendment lawyer.”
The IUC supported this part of the bill because it asserted that students deserve “broad latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, learn, and discuss any issue.”
Cirino also removed sections of the legislation that dealt with free speech in grades K-12.
Still, the Ohio Education Association “opposes the free speech provisions currently contained in the bill.”
OAS President Scott DiMauro told lawmakers that Senate Bill 40, passed at the last General Assembly, covers many of these issues and that campuses should be allowed to see how this law plays out. takes place before adopting new rules.
Sell campus properties
Ohio law requires public universities to convince lawmakers to pass legislation if they want to sell campus buildings, parking lots or property.
SB 135 will allow these sales to go through the Board of Control instead of the entire General Assembly.
“It’s a legislative shortcut so they can get their real estate deals done much faster instead of waiting for the House and Senate to pass a bill,” Cirino said.
SB 135 originally asked the Chancellor of Higher Education in Ohio to consider whether a proposed degree reflected “in-demand” jobs in Buckeye State.
This language needed a bit of work, Cirino said. Thus, it was replaced with “State Workforce Development Priorities”.
It was a subtle change, but the Republican said he was happy to make it.
“I have a style of persuasion that is about being as inclusive as possible without sacrificing big principles,” he said.
Donations to Donors
When it came to the language governing how donor donations were used by public universities, there was no compromise.
The wording would have “strengthened agreements with donors, Cirino said. And given donors the right to sue if they felt the university was not “following the intent of their donation.”
This caused a big problem for schools such as The Ohio State University.
“The bottom line of this provision is clear,” said Lincoln Davies, dean of OSU’s Moritz College of Law. “It would wreak havoc on noble and kind-hearted charitable giving in our state, and it would put Ohio at a significant competitive disadvantage compared to other states.”
So the whole section was deleted.
“In our view, the House correctly removed the problematic donor intent language in its entirety,” Johnson told lawmakers Tuesday.
This story will be updated once the House and Senate vote on the bill.
Anna Staver is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau. It serves the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news outlets in Ohio.