Ohio legislators put the plan to move most of the powers of the Ohio Department of Education, housed under the State School Board, to the new Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, housed under the governor’s office, in the latest budget bill.
The Ohio Department of Education will retain some powers, such as the ability to license teachers and move district borders. But other questions in education, like how to teach kids to read and what is “grade-level” for a student, would be moved to the new Ohio Department of Workforce and Education, which will have two leaders – one who oversees K-12 students and the other who oversees workforce development.
DeWine signed the budget bill at the beginning of July, but it won’t go into effect until Oct. 3.
The seven members of the board involved in the lawsuit are Christina Collins, Teresa Fedor, Katie Hofmann, Tom Jackson, Meryl Johnson, Antoinette Miranda and Michelle Newman.
All seven are elected board members. The state school board is made of 19 members, 11 of whom are elected and eight of whom are appointed by the governor’s office.
The seven members say the move from the state school board to the governor’s office is a power grab.
“For decades, parents in Ohio have gone to the voting booth to exercise their right to elect representatives empowered to advocate for them at the state level,” members said in a prepared statement. “We will not sit back and let stand such a brazen power-grab that flies in the face of Ohio residents who value local input and control over their children’s education.”
DeWine’s office declined to comment on pending litigation.
What’s being alleged?
In a prepared statement, the seven members, the Democracy Forward Foundation, a national legal organization that formed several legal challenges to previous president Donald Trump’s actions, and the law firm representing the seven, Ulmer &Berne LLP, said the part of the legislation that specifically created the new Department of Education and Workforce violates Article VI, Section 4 of the Ohio Constitution.
That part of the Ohio Constitution says there will be a state board of education that will appoint a superintendent of public instruction, with their respective powers prescribed under the law.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the legislation violates rules around the legislative process when it was added to the budget bill. The idea was part of two separate bills that did not pass in the previous legislature.
“Now, more than ever, it is paramount that we fight to uphold the safeguards and processes that are fundamental to our democratic system,” said Amanda Martinsek, partner at Ulmer & Berne LLP.
Where are we now?
The State Board of Education is still meeting and has appointed Chris Woolard as the interim superintendent of public instruction. As of Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Education is still giving directions to the local schools and setting standards for state tests. ODE released report cards for the 2022-2023 school year last week.
Ohio is a local control state, so the change of the department’s leadership will not directly impact the curriculum that students are taught. That is up to the local school board to pick.
However, the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce would oversee other issues, like standards for reading and math for K-12, test score results and school report cards, that could impact local schools.