School districts sue to stop Ohio school vouchers

(J.D. Davidson | The Center Square) – A coalition of about 100 Ohio public school districts filed a lawsuit Tuesday, challenging the state’s growing private school voucher program.

The group,…

(J.D. Davidson | The Center Square) – A coalition of about 100 Ohio public school districts filed a lawsuit Tuesday, challenging the state’s growing private school voucher program.

The group, Vouchers Hurt Ohio, filed in Franklin County Common Pleas court on behalf of five school districts and students Malcom McPherson and Fergus Connelly, through their parents, along with the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding.

The group said the program is siphoning away hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools.

The lawsuit names the state of Ohio, the Ohio Department of Education, the State Board of Education and interim Superintendent of Public Instruction Stephanie Siddens as defendants.

“The EdChoice Scholarship Program poses an existential threat to Ohio’s public school system,” the lawsuit read. “Not only does this voucher program unconstitutionally usurp Ohio’s public tax dollars to subsidize private school tuitions, it does so by depleting Ohio’s foundation funding – the pool of money out of which the state funds Ohio’s public schools – otherwise available to already struggling school districts for the education of their students.”

EdChoice allows students from low-performing public schools to attend private, charter or parochial schools using public tax money. Lawmakers expanded the program this year from $6,000 per high school student to $7,500. The cap on the number of eligible students was eliminated, and a separate fund for vouchers was created, so public schools no longer would have to pass along the money per student.

School-choice proponents such as The Buckeye Institute, a Columbus-based think tank, called the additions bold and significant.

“Governor Mike DeWine has signed a budget that expands existing school choice options and creates Ohio’s first-ever education savings account program helping parents afford desperately-needed resources and giving them the flexibility necessary to improve their children’s educational outcomes,” Rea Hederman Jr., executive director of the Economic Research Center at the Buckeye Institute and vice president of policy, said over the summer. “These bold reforms are some of the most significant that Ohio’s families have seen in a decade.”

Former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice and current Columbus City Schools board member Eric Brown said in a news release from Vouchers Hurt Ohio the General Assembly does not have the power to fund private schools.

“Where does the Ohio General Assembly get the power to fund private school vouchers? That power is nowhere to be found in the Ohio Constitution,” Brown said. “In fact, the Ohio Constitution forbids it. Lawmakers have the authority and responsibility to fund ‘a’ system of ‘common schools,’ with common standards and resources for all of Ohio’s taxpayers, parents and students.”

The Buckeye Institute, School Choice Ohio and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute issued a joint statement that called the lawsuit a shame.

“The question on whether Ohio’s school choice programs are constitutional has already been asked and answered. Rather than waste taxpayers’ money, backers of this latest attempt to deny Ohio parents any choice in education would serve students better by actually working with families to ensure Ohio’s students are prepared for college, career, and real life,” the statement read.

“Unlike the misguided parties filing this wasteful lawsuit, we will always put students and families first. We also want to reassure the parents of the over 70,000 kids that would be thrown out of school if this suit prevails, that we have every confidence that the courts will see this sham for what it is.”