School District Coalition Takes Legal Action Against Ohio’s Private School Voucher Program



A group of school districts in Ohio are suing the state, claiming the way private schools are funded is uneven and unconstitutional.

Public education advocacy group Vouchers Hurt Ohio announced the trial Tuesday morning at a press conference. The legal challenge, filed the same day in Franklin County Common Plea Court, specifically targets the EdChoice private school voucher program, claiming that this program has grown disproportionately while the public school system has had to struggle with fewer and fewer resources.

Represented in the trial are the Columbus City School District, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, the Richmond Heights Local School District, the Lima City School District, the Barberton City School District, two parents from Cleveland Heights and the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, a regular participant in education funding lawsuits.

The coalition has been at the forefront of major lawsuits over the past 30 years against the state in DeRolph v. Ohio State. In the lawsuit over the vouchers, coalition executive director William Phillis said 100 school districts agreed to the lawsuit as members of the coalition.

The group of school districts accused the General Assembly of adopting school funding that not only creates a separate system for private education, but also perpetuates segregation within it.

“EdChoice is disproportionately used by non-minority students, although it was originally touted as providing more options for low-income and minority students,” said Nneka Jackson, board member of administration of the local Richmond Heights school district. “We know that is not true.”

Jackson said Richmond Heights has seen a dramatic shift in population demographics since the inception of the EdChoice voucher system. The population of Richmond Heights is 40% white residents. Prior to the EdChoice vouchers, Jackson said the school district’s student makeup was 26 percent white and 74 percent students of color.

After EdChoice allowed more students to go to private schools with state grants, Jackson said the Richmond Heights school district leaned overwhelmingly towards a student population of 3% white and 97% of students of color.

“The private school voucher program is redistributing our schools and it’s unfair, illegal and unconstitutional,” Jackson said.

In addition to creating separation for residents of certain school districts, local schools at the University of Cleveland Heights say they see the voucher program taking students who weren’t even part of the school system in the first place, according to education council member Dan Heintz.

“Our taxpayers deserve to see that we are responsible stewards of their taxes,” Heintz said. “This trial is part of this management. “

School board members supporting the lawsuit said the recent adoption of an abbreviated version of the equitable school funding program is not enough and falls short of its original goals of equitably funding public education.

Under the latest budget passed last year, EdChoice payments are $ 5,500 for K-8 students and $ 7,500 per student for high school students. As part of the in-state budget financing plan, public school districts will have their aid calculated on a district-by-district basis, which the Ohio Department of Education is still working on. When the budget was to pass, the average base cost per student for education was calculated at $ 7,202.

Legislative leaders at the time, including Senate Speaker Matt Huffman, said they could not approve funding beyond the General Assembly’s two-year term because it was impossible to predict. financial state and make decisions inappropriately for the future general. assemblies.

Coupons Hurt Ohio does not attempt to review decisions by DeRolph v. Ohio, Ohio Supreme Court rulings three decades ago that the state did not fund education fully or equally statewide.

Instead, they say they want to address an issue the court failed to address: whether the way the funding was diverted to private schools is constitutional.

“For the first time in Ohio, the legislature did what it refused to do at the time of the DeRolph litigation, which involves specifying what they really think it would take to properly fund the school system and then they didn’t fund it, ”said Mark Wallach, the Cleveland-based lawyer representing the groups in the lawsuits .

The lawsuit accuses the state of constitutional violations of the state’s version of federal equal protection laws, as well as multiple violations of the specific article of the constitution dealing with education funding. Article VI, section 2 of the state constitution dictates to state regulations the creation of a “comprehensive and effective system of common schools”, which, according to the lawsuit, implies a system for the statewide, not several.

“By underfunding public schools in favor of private education grants, the General Assembly, the State Board of Education, and the Ohio Department of Education have created an incomplete and inefficient school system in which public schools struggle. to provide adequate educational programming and staff for their students. while private schools develop, build and grow, ”says the lawsuit.

Even before the group finished its announcement of the trial, criticism was leveled against the trial by opposition groups.

The Center for Christian Virtue, a religious education lobby, denounced the bill as an anti-school choice maneuver that would negatively impact students and parents.

“The ‘one-size-fits-all’ model works for the educational institution, but not for Ohio students,” Troy McIntosh, executive director of the Ohio Christian Education Network, said in a CCV statement. “Parents have chosen these (private) schools for a reason, and it is because they believe they give their children the best chance to thrive as a student.”

CCV also supports the so-called “backpacks bill,” which proposes to tie education funding to each student, rather than allocating money to school districts.

But the coalition that lodged the complaint said that wanting public school funding changed does not prevent parents from choosing the school of their choice, but in fact gives them more choice.

“We didn’t just stay, we chose to stay (in public schools),” Jackson said. “… And this choice?” Public education is still a viable choice today in Ohio.

Coalition members say they expect more school districts to sign the lawsuit now that it has been publicly filed.

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