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Ohio Senate wants university president to answer for money requests

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(The Center Square) – Legislation that would prohibit mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training at state colleges and universities and stop those schools from taking a stand on controversial beliefs continues to sit in the Ohio House.

After passing the House Higher Education Committee by two votes, with two Republicans voting against it more than two months ago, Senate Bill 83 has yet to make it to the House floor for a vote.

Introduced almost a year ago, it cleared the Senate in May.

Now, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, want to review administrative costs for higher education as part of the process for schools applying for taxpayer money during the $4 billion capital budget process.

Cirino sent all 14 university presidents a letter asking them to testify about their capital requests and how they spend money on specific programs.

Cirino said on the Senate Republican Caucus’ President’s Podcast that the state’s 22 community college presidents will submit their information in writing.

“It’s an opportunity for them to share a lot of other information with us,” Cirino said. “I know it’s welcomed by the presidents because I’ve talked to many of them.”

That process also includes a one-time $700 million Community Investment Fund. The House passed its plan to spend half of that money last week, but the Senate plans to take more time.

The House-passed bill also includes $1.65 billion of borrowed money, which provides $600 million for school district facility projects, $397.6 million for construction at state colleges and universities, $400 million for grants and loans to local governments for road, bridge, water and sewer projects; and $250 million to build and renovate local jails.

According to figures released by the Ohio Department of Higher Education, enrollment in Ohio public colleges and universities dropped 12% from the fall of 2022 to the fall of 2023.

“Typically, in the past, this higher education fund, we haven’t done an examination like this,” Huffman said on the podcast. “One of the principal problems that all universities have is declining enrollment. We can’t be building a brand new student center for a university if their enrollment is declining. You don’t simply just say here’s lots of money, we hope you do good things with it. That’s not what the taxpayers want.”

In both the Senate and House, SB83 received significant opposition from individuals, the Ohio Education Association, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the ACLU and the NAACP.

Tom Roberts, president of the Ohio Conference of the NAACP, testified, “It is my belief that if passed, Senate Bill 83 would be a drastic step in the wrong direction of all Ohioans. The NAACP envisions an inclusive community rooted in liberation where all persons can exercise their civil and human rights without discrimination. This legislation will have a chilling effect on the Black student experience at colleges and universities because it will prohibit the university support for programs which have successfully increased Black student recruitment and retention.”

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