(Ohio) – The new legislation prohibits public schools from restricting a student’s religious expression while at school.
According to reports, House Bill 164 indicates each school board district may provide a moment of silence every day for prayer, a reflection, or meditation upon a moral, philosophical, or patriotic theme while noting not everyone is required to participate. Governor Mike DeWine signed the schools ‘religious freedom bill’ into law on Friday. The bill also partially restores recent state funding cuts for dozens of K-12 districts across the state.
The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Tim Ginter of Richland County, requires public schools to provide the same access to facilities to religious student groups as they would for secular groups. Additionally, the law prohibits schools from inhibiting students’ religious expression in filling out homework and other school assignments. Those against the bill cited advocacy for the separation of church and state, including the ACLU. However, the Governor has signed the bill after it passed the Senate last week following amendments to include additional school funding.
Last week lawmakers amended the bill to also include additional school funding to two groups of schools. Seventy generally suburban school districts, including 36 in Greater Cleveland and Akron will see the restoration of previously cut funding. Officials indicated the money is meant to partially offset $300 million in state education cuts announced by the DeWine administration that uniquely affected two groups due to the indication the cuts were designed to guard against applying the hardest cuts to the poorest districts. So, officials noted, some suburban school districts with higher local property wealth saw significantly higher cuts than others.
The funding in the amendments caps the cuts and also factors in the state cuts and offsets new federal money received per the CARES coronavirus relief bill at 6%.
The second group includes eight school districts, mostly in rural Southern Ohio, were nearby power plants saw recent property tax devaluations of greater than 10%. This lead to a corresponding drop in revenue for the area school districts.
Additionally, the bill extends special education through telecommunications, allows school bus drivers to be certified over the internet rather than just in-person, and no longer requires third-graders to repeat the grade due to scores on reading tests.