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Republicans sneak privatization language into higher ed audit bill

Senate Bill 120, co-sponsored by Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem), began as a simple bill to authorize the Auditor of State to conduct performance audits of any and all state institutions of higher education — an idea that we generally support.

However, after the bill was passed by the Ohio Senate, House Republicans used the bill as a vehicle for privatization language.

Before passing the Ohio House Higher Education Committee, a substitute bill was adopted with amendments permitting public colleges and universities to enter into long-term lease agreements (20-75 years) with private vendors to renovate existing residence halls and build new residence halls. It also allows those vendors to avoid paying property taxes.

The Ohio Conference AAUP consistently has opposed this kind of privatization, not only because private entities benefit from what have long been taxpayer-supported services and assets, but also because the privatization can impact the jobs of campus workers. When a private entity takes over residence halls, it becomes about profit, not service to students.

The bill was signed quickly by Gov. DeWine last week, after the full Ohio House voted in favor of it by a vote of 87-5. Unfortunately, because the privatization amendments were adopted at the last step in the committee process, stakeholders like us, as well as potentially impacted unions like AFSCME, were not given the opportunity to weigh in against it.

We will continue to keep an eye on future privatization attempts and express our disappointment in the process by which this bill passed in its final form.

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