70 school districts preparing to sue Ohio over private school vouchers | #Education


COLUMBUS, Ohio –About 70 Ohio school districts plan to sue the state over the laws that allow vouchers for private school tuition, arguing that it results in an educational system that’s unconstitutional.

The coalition, Vouchers Hurt Ohio, includes many of the same districts and education advocates who were involved in the DeRolph v. Ohio case spanning 11 years in the 1990s and early 2000s that resulted in the Ohio Supreme Court declaring the state’s public school funding system unconstitutional.

They say that with the voucher case, they will similarly be committed for the long haul, if necessary.

The Cleveland law firm of Walter Haverfield is preparing the litigation, said William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Advocacy of School Funding, which is made up of 140 school districts that were involved in the DeRolph suit and are supporting the upcoming voucher case. The date when the suit will be filed isn’t yet known.

The case will focus on the same part of the Ohio Constitution as the DeRolph case: Article VI, Section 2, in particular, the first part: “The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state…”

“In 1850-1851, delegates to that constitutional convention said that we need to get a system so that everybody has an opportunity for an education,” Phillis said. “They crafted this language that the state would be responsible for a ‘thorough and efficient system.’ The emphasis is on system.”

The coalition believes that the billions of dollars that have been sent to private schools has weakened the public school system, Phillis said.

Northeast Ohio school districts that are part of the Vouchers Hurt Ohio coalition include Bedford City School District, Fairview Park City Schools, Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District and Wickliffe City School District.

“The state’s responsibility is for the system of education,” Phillis said. “That former secretary of education Betsy DeVos kept talking about funding the kids, funding the students, funding the parents. Well, the fire department doesn’t fund people to get their own fire protection. The police department doesn’t give vouchers out to people to hire their own security. It’s the system. It’s for the common good.”

Just under 5,000 students attend Cleveland-Heights-University Heights schools, and another 1,700 attend private schools on vouchers, said Dan Heintz, a member of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights board, which about a year ago voted to participate in the lawsuit.

The school district loses about $9 million a year in state funding because it’s going to private school vouchers, he said.

That is money the district needs, since the majority of the students in its schools are from low-income households. A majority of the students are racial and ethnic minorities, Heintz said.

“It has resulted in increased needs for tax levies to support the public schools,” he said. “It has continued to divide our community along lines related to the use of the private schools. Which is tragic. Kids are kids.”

While all public school children must take standardized tests from which schools can be graded as failing, the only private school students who have to take standardized tests are those who receive vouchers. Heintz said this does not result in a fair comparison of public and private schools.

Ninety-five percent of the students in his district who attend private schools on vouchers have never attended a district school, so they aren’t necessarily fleeing low-performing schools, Heintz said.

“These families are not fleeing a failing school,” he said. “They’re fleeing a tuition bill.”

Aaron Churchill, the Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which advocates choice in education, believes that the state can have a diverse mix of public, private and charter schools – and that doesn’t mean the public school system is weakened.

The amount of money flowing to traditional public schools has increased since the last Ohio Supreme Court ruling on the DeRolph case, in 2002. Although public school advocates argue the funding continues to be unconstitutional, Churchill disagrees, saying the state has changed how it pays for education several times since 2002.

“We’re spending about $12,500 a kid statewide,” he said, explaining that’s the average spending when considering state, local and federal funds.

In 1991, when the DeRolph case was first filed in Perry County, the average amount spent on education was $8,000 in today’s dollars, when adjusted for inflation, he said.

In 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the law authorizing charter schools, and that case may provide the legal precedent in any potential voucher case, Churchill said.

“The Constitution says there must be a system of public schools,” he said. “So that’s implemented through the traditional school system. And that’s not going away, even with different choice options. That doesn’t mean state legislators can’t create additional educational opportunities on top of that traditional school system. And that’s what the Supreme Court in the charter school case leaned on.”

More coverage:

Judge temporarily blocks Ohio’s enforcement of fetal remains abortion law

Ohio Medicaid chooses Aetna to manage care of kids with complex mental health needs

Ohio will rush coronavirus vaccines to areas with case spikes

FirstEnergy customers to get refunds, after Gov. Mike DeWine signs bill: Capitol Letter



Source link