Franklin County judge orders temporary restraining order to stop overhaul of Ohio K-12 education

Seven members of the Ohio State Board of Education filed a lawsuit to stop the transfer of power from the Board to the governor’s office. 

By: - September 22, 2023 5:00 am
The Ohio Department of Education in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

The Ohio Department of Education in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

A Franklin County judge has issued a temporary restraining order to block lawmakers’ attempts to overhaul Ohio’s K-12 education system.

Seven members of the Ohio State Board of Education filed a lawsuit against Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to stop the transfer of power from the Board to the governor’s office.

Christina Collins, Teresa Fedor, Kathleen Hofmann, Tom Jackson, Meryl Johnson, Antoinette Miranda, and Michelle Newman filed the lawsuit. They are being represented by Democracy Forward and Ulmer & Berne LLP.

Franklin County Judge Karen Held Phipps issued the temporary restraining order Thursday and will now go to a preliminary injunction hearing on Oct. 2, a day before the changes are scheduled to take effect.

“Creating a new cabinet-level agency is not a silver bullet and does not magically solve problems,” House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said in a statement. “Board members are elected on a non-partisan basis and because of that, expertise and experience in education is a big factor of who gets elected. With a governor appointee, there’s little doubt we’ll see an increase in partisan decision-making.” 

What’s in the lawsuit?

The state’s operating budget, signed into law by DeWine, would rename the Ohio Department of Education to the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce. It would create a cabinet-level director position, put the department under the governor’s office and limit the State Board of Education’s power to teacher disciplinary and licensure cases and territory disputes.

“If unchecked by this Court, the system Ohio’s citizens mandated for governing education in Ohio will be rendered virtually powerless,” the lawsuit reads. “The bill strips the Board’s democratically elected members of their core and constitutionally intended duties and responsibilities for the oversight and governance of Ohio’s public education system.” 

The plaintiffs are asking the court to grant a temporary, preliminary and permanent relief to stop the changes from going into effect, remove this piece of legislation from the state budget and strike it void. 

The Ohio State Board of Education is currently made up of 19 members — 11 elected and eight appointed by Gov. DeWine.

Under the changes, the plaintiffs fear parents and students won’t be able to voice “their support for or opposition to developments in education policy.” 

Democratic Senators Nickie J. Antonio, Catherine Ingram, Vernon Sykes, and Paula Hicks-Hudson all support the lawsuit.

“This lawsuit is an opportunity to restore the voice of all Ohioans through protecting the duties and powers of their state board of education members,” Antonio said in a statement.

Senate Bill 1 

These changes to the Ohio Department of Education and State Board of Education started out as Senate Bill 1, which Sen. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, introduced in January.

The Ohio Senate voted along party lines to pass SB 1 in March — which sent it to the Ohio House, but it stayed in committee. The Senate added SB 1 to the state budget in June, which DeWine signed into law in July. 

“In fear that the Senate Bill 1 power grab would not pass on its own merits, the Majority chose to circumvent the process by including it in the biannual budget, violating the single subject rule,” Hicks-Hudson said in a statement. “In doing so, they also chose to disenfranchise duly elected representatives to the Board of Education.”

These seven board members previously wrote a letter to DeWine the day he received the budget and asked him to veto the “power grab” of changing the state board’s roles.

Constitutional violations 

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue these changes to the State Board of Education and ODE violate the state constitution. 

“When SB 1 could not pass as standalone legislation, the Education Takeover Rider was attached to HB 33 at the eleventh hour to ensure that the rider became law nonetheless,” the lawsuit reads. “This practice — known as logrolling — is prohibited by … the Ohio Constitution.” 

Phipps said “the Court finds it necessary to address only” the logrolling argument, according to court documents.

Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1953 that created a State Board of Education with the power to appoint a Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

The Ohio Constitution also has the three-reading rule, which means a bill should be considered by each house on three different days.

“The Education Takeover Rider was not considered by each house of Ohio’s General Assembly on three different days,” the lawsuit says.

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.

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Megan Henry
Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.

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