COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thousands of opponents of Ohio's new collective bargaining law marched through the streets of Columbus on Wednesday to deliver signatures aimed at getting a repeal question on the November ballot, even as Gov. John Kasich continued to defend the law.
The morning parade staged by We Are Ohio, the group opposing Senate Bill 5, stretched from the city's science museum across the Scioto River past the Statehouse. Marchers young and old chanted "Kill the bill" and "O-H-I-O, John Kasich's got to go" as they walked.
They delivered nearly 1.3 million signatures to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. Proponents of the referendum, which would invalidate the entire bill, need just over 231,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from the blue-collar Mahoning Valley, called the number of signatures "epic."
"At this point, it appears all but certain that in November voters will have the opportunity to overturn this attack on Ohio's working families," he said in a statement. "This bill was a blatant political attack on Ohio's teachers, firefighters, policeman, and the rest of the people that support our communities."
The law signed by Kasich in late March bans public employee strikes and restricts collective bargaining rights for more than 350,000 teachers, police officers, state employees and others. While unions can continue to negotiate wages, they cannot bargain on health care, sick time or pension benefits.
At the Ohio Department of Education, which sits along Wednesday's parade route, Kasich held an event announcing winners of $16.2 million in federal Race to the Top innovation grants. They are the first awards from the $400 million Ohio won last year.
The Republican governor said he, Democratic President Barack Obama and the half of Ohio's school districts that signed up for the program are already on board with a system that ties pay for teachers more closely to their performance in the classroom.
"Race to the Top is fantastic, as I said, and you know I've had my disagreements with the president — starting on the golf course," Kasich said, referring to a recent links outing that paired political rivals Obama and House Speaker John Boehner against Vice President Joe Biden and himself. "But you know Race to the Top is about one thing: It's helping kids succeed."
Senate Bill 5 would take a similar teacher evaluation system statewide. After it looked likely the bill would be put on hold, Republican state lawmakers tucked similar requirements into the state budget that cleared the Legislature on Wednesday and awaits Kasich's signature by a Thursday deadline.
"All I want at the end of the day is for our teachers — the ones who struggle and strive and work so hard every day — to be properly rewarded," Kasich said. "And for those that are not so good, and are not giving our children the kind of capabilities that they deserve, that we can remediate them, deal with that problem."
The Ohio Education Association, which represents 128,000 educators and staff, opposes the provisions.
"Educators oppose one-size-fits-all evaluation and merit pay systems that rely too much on standardized tests," the teachers union said in a statement. "Most Ohioans agree it is wrong to link high-stakes decisions to student performance on standardized tests, especially decisions about how teachers are paid."
With the budget and signature deadline behind them, opposing groups sought political contributions for their sides Wednesday in anticipation of the fall campaign.
Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said Senate Bill 5 has "galvanized a true grassroots movement of Ohioans who have stood up and made their voice heard, not only on Senate Bill 5, but also on Kasich's jobs killing budget, bills that would suppress the vote, and a slew of other attacks."
Building a Better Ohio, the group defending the law, told its potential donors in a Wednesday email that "it's time to treat the taxpayers with respect."
While he sympathized with teachers, Kasich said he believes many are misinformed about Senate Bill 5 — whose teacher provisions look much like those in Race to the Top.
"I think we ought to let this opportunity for excellence for our children spread to all the school districts of Ohio, and that is precisely what SB5 allows us to do," he said. "So Mom and Dad? Get informed about what we're trying to do here. We're trying to raise the bar, trying to provide better education, better evaluation, better schools, better informed teachers."