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Ohio to Give Local Districts Discretion Over Staffing for Art, Music and Gym

The Ohio State Board of Education on Tuesday took a definitive step toward eliminating a requirement mandating that school districts hire a minimum number of educators in areas such as art, library and gym.

The change, which passed by a 14-5 vote, had been widely criticized by some educators, who fear that it would allow districts to cut those positions at the elementary school level and in urban school districts. They also worried that those positions would be the first to go when districts are faced with financial constraints because those subject areas may not be considered essential, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Board members who are supportive of the change—which will be subject to a legislative review before a final vote in March—have said that they are not eliminating those positions altogether but are merely affording local districts more flexibility by leaving those staffing decisions up to the districts.

The debate and vote are centered on what's known as the "5 of 8 rule"—a state mandate that requires school districts to have five full-time personnel for every 1,000 students in eight specific positions.  

The rule traditionally affected staffing in art, physical education, counseling, nursing, libraries, music, social workers and "visiting teachers," according to State Impact, a project of National Public Radio.

The amendment also included a proposal that state report cards contain the number of educational personnel the districts employ and a requirement that art, music and other teachers be qualified and credentialed in the areas in which they teach, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

One state board of education member told State Impact that many districts had complained about the burden of  "unfunded mandates."

"Local districts know their students and what their needs are more than we do," said Tom Gunlock, "and so it should be left up to local schools boards, local superintendents to decided what's best for their students and give them the flexibility to do so."

The Ohio Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, was displeased that the "5 of 8" rule was eliminated, but told the Associated Press that it supported new language for the inclusion of education personnel on the state report cards.

"We hope local districts will get the message that licensed professionals in all of these areas are essential to support the needs of the whole child and that the state legislature will follow suit by ensuring all districts have the resources necessary to meet those needs,"  the teachers' union president Becky Higgins told the Associated Press. 

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