COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the release of Ohio's new tourism video Friday, two legislators have a new recruitment tactic to get more people to live in the state.
Reps. Jon Cross, a Republican from Hardin County, and Sedrick Denson, a Democrat from Cincinnati, have proposed the Graduating and Retaining Ohio's Workforce Act (GROW).
Although Gov. Mike DeWine touted Ohio’s success of Intel choosing to set up a new facility in the state, a United Van Lines study showed Ohio ranks in the top 10 states that people are leaving. The state even lost a congressional seat due to population decline.
Now, Cross and Denson are offering all types of financial incentives to get people to come and then stay.
"This bill is really focused, narrowly focused on how do we attract and retain college graduates," Cross said.
The bill would help in four main ways:
- If a student graduating college takes a job in Ohio rather than out-of-state, they will get 100% refundable state income tax payment for up to three years.
- There will now be 100 scholarships of $25,000 available for out-of-state students enrolling to any of Ohio’s four-year programs, if they are in the top 5% of their high school graduating class and pursuing a degree within a STEM field. In addition, the scholarship will be a forgivable loan if they remain in Ohio after graduation.
- Ohio employers will earn a refundable credit of 30% of paid wages for students who did internships, apprenticeships and co-ops.
- Students who completed their associate degree and want to get a bachelor’s can get another grant.
"We're losing too much of our talent, folks are not finding reasons to stay here, they're finding much more reasons to go to other parts of the country," Denson said. "But what we continually hear from business owners is that 'We need talent, we need more talent, we need more talent.'"
Ohio has to get more competitive and can't take for granted that just because someone is born and raised in the state, that they will stay, Cross added.
"We have to up our game, up our messaging and our marketing and our incentives to do so because if we don't, other states will," the Republican said.
Many of Denson's friends actually did leave Ohio, he said.
"That's one of the biggest things we hear, is that debt is just way too much," the Democrat said.
For loan forgiveness, if the student stays for one year after graduation from any type of four-year program, they only have to pay 77% of the outstanding loan, two years is 50%, and three years is none.
"We believe if we can get you for three years, we got you for a lifetime," Cross said with a laugh.
Now onto the cost
The Legislative Service Commission predicted it would cost the state anywhere from $50 million to $150 million over the three-year process. Under codified law, the vast majority of any personal income tax revenue losses would be handled by the General Revenue Fund. The rest of the losses would be managed by the Local Government Fund and Public Library Fund.
"I think that's a drop in the bucket compared to what we have learned from JobsOhio that with college students leaving, it's costing Ohio up to $367 million of lost tax revenue," Cross said. "The bill will pay for itself if we can keep and widen the tax base.
"I also make the argument that at the end of the day, is it really costing taxpayers money or are we giving back the students their money that they issued to the state government?"
It's a win-win for both the students and the state, he said. In the long run, there will be little financial impact and a lot to gain by how many people, a wider tax base and a stronger talent pool, he added.
"Rep. Cross and myself will be out of the General Assembly before we really start seeing the return on investment that we're making today," Denson said. "But that's what we're sent to Columbus to do, and that's make right decisions for the healthy financial stability of Ohio."
Although there are no public opponents of the bill, educators are asking for lawmakers to think why people would want to leave the state.
"I think that the number one thing that the Legislature could do is adopt their version of the Hippocratic Oath, which is not doing any harm," Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association. "The more this Legislature passes extremist bills that limit academic freedom, that limit our ability to teach all of our students a complete and honest education — [Once they stop] I think that will take an important step in helping to say that Ohio is a welcoming place for all and there isn't a reason for people to go elsewhere to find what it is, whatever it is that's going to ignite their passion and lead a brighter future."
Students and educators across Ohio have been rallying for months now against the bill that would ban the teaching of "controversial" topics. Protests at the University of Akron, Kent State University and inside the Statehouse focused on truth, combating censorship and putting education above political gain.
After the exclusive News 5 story on HB 327's sponsor's comments on the Holocaust went international, lawmakers are trying a new way to regulate what is being taught in schools — leading to an uproar.
House Republicans introduced Ohio's version of Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill in early April. Much like House Bill 327, House Bill 616 would ban the teaching of any divisive or inherently racist concept — but it goes a step further. This bill would prohibit the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Then, a controversial new gun law caused law enforcement officers and educators to beg their lawmakers to stop. House Bill 99 would make it significantly easier for adults in schools to carry guns, loosening the regulations by about 95%.
"So really, investing in our schools and stop with this silly debate about non-issues that that are all about driving wedges between schools and communities over issues of race, over issues of sexual orientation," DiMauro said. "Let's get down to the business of making sure that every single student in the state of Ohio as a high quality education and an educators are lifted up and supported so that we are giving our students what they need and deserve."
DiMauro also thinks the state should look into the teacher shortage as well. By helping build up the education system, more people may stay — including staff.
It was a struggle even before the pandemic hit, but now, finding someone to sub in when a teacher is out sick is even harder for Ohio schools.
The authorization of an advanced version of a Republican-led House bill could alleviate some of that pressure. Although not everyone is satisfied, the need for some relief is bipartisan.
Republican-led with bipartisan backing, another bill — HB183 — would allow local school boards to hire substitutes who don’t have college degrees. This, as long as they meet the school’s educational requirements, pass a criminal background check, and are of “good moral character.”
Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper wishes there were more strict guidelines, such as some college background or some experience supervising children. However, she knows there is a crisis.
After a back-and-forth with educators, HB183 sponsor Adam Bird, a Republican from New Richmond, did hear the concerns of teachers and added an amendment to the bill that would create a study committee to address the root of the shortage of substitute teachers.
Denson responded to News 5's question about how some students have reported feeling unwelcome, especially as the Divisive Concepts Bill would impact college-level classes.
"We have to work to make sure that we are putting forth smart, sensible legislation and that's what this is," he said, referencing HB 514. "I really don't want to put it in too much with other things that are going on, but it's certainly a reality — but we have to look at the people, pay attention to everything that we are doing that affects their space, if they want to come here or not."
One of the things he knows is that the Legislature has to find a way to continue to work together, he said.
"While we will still have controversial bills that are going to continue to show up, I think what happens is we bring more people into Ohio, we allow this talent to stay in Ohio, it allows more voices to be a little bit louder for us all to sit down and come up with some common sense solutions about what we are doing," Denson added, with Cross nodding along. "This bill may open up a lot of different conversations as to some of the bills that you're talking about, and so hopefully it just shows that we can work together, we can listen and we are paying attention to what people want."
But for now — the representatives are focused on getting their bipartisan legislation passed by the House. It has its third hearing on Tuesday.
Many colleges have spoken out in support of the bill, including OSU and University of Akron. So far, there have been no opponents to testify.
"Hey, we love you and we want you to love Ohio like we do — and here's a helping start," Cross said. "If we're not getting competitive like our Saturday football teams, then we're losing out."