Ohio Supreme Court: Community schools owed grant funding
Photo: Courtesy of the Ohio Supreme Court
A group of community charter schools weren’t given funding due to them by the state of Ohio, according to an Ohio Supreme Court ruling.
Horizon Science Academy, which has a system of 17 schools in Ohio along with other schools across the country, sued the state after the Ohio Department of Education determined the community schools had not met criteria for the Quality Community School Support Program, from which the schools would have received grant funding for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 fiscal years.
In the previous biennial budget bill, the state legislature appropriated $30 million for the program, and set the criteria to qualify for the grant money.
Because the academy runs schools outside of the state, through an Illinois non-profit corporation, the state requires that the academy have an out-of-state school that performs better than the school district in which the school is located, at least 50% of the students considered economically disadvantaged, no financial viability issues and be “in good standing” in all states of operation.
After applying for the funds in November 2019, the academy was denied the funding because the Illinois nonprofit operator, Concept Schools, was “not registered as a foreign corporation with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office and, therefore, is not in good standing in Ohio.”
The schools asked the court to compel the state to approve the grants for up to $1,750 for each student considered economically disadvantages, and up to $1,000 for all other students enrolled for the 2020 fiscal year.
In filing with the Ohio Supreme Court, the schools said they had no other choice in challenging the decision of the ODE, an argument with which the court agreed.
“Indeed, the schools have no avenue to appeal ODE’s determination that they are ineligible for QCSS grants,” the court wrote in a group opinion.
In dispute was the legislature’s meaning of the phrase “in good standing.” The ODE argued that they denied the academy’s grant applications because their operator had not been licensed in the state when they submitted their applications for grant funding.
The court said Concept’s failure to be properly registered “does not affect the validity of its school-management agreements.”
“But for purposes of the schools’ eligibility for QCSS-grant funding under (the criteria), ODE considers the term ‘in good standing’ to implicitly include licensure with the secretary of state,” according to the court decision.
In the context of the other criteria for eligibility, however, the court said an educational facility being “in good standing” is not necessarily connected to an operators “corporate-registration requirement” under the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office.
The other criteria to receive grant funding reference academic performance standards, a pattern of previous grant funding and “operator’s effectiveness.” The court said under the law, corporate registration is not a prerequisite to qualify for community school grant funding.
“If the General Assembly had been concerned with a school operator’s corporate-registration status as a pre-requisite to QCSS-grant funding, it would have imposed corporate registration as a requirement for schools applying under any of the criteria and not just for the eligibility under (the operator criterion),” according to the supreme court decision.
The court ruled that the academy schools “satisfied all the requirements,” and should be awarded the grant funding they would have received if their applications had been approved.
The majority of the court submitted the ruling as a group, with only two members, Justices Michael P. Donnelly and Jennifer Brunner, dissenting.
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