The Ohio Department of Education in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is moving forward with an overhaul of Ohio’s education department and state board of education despite a Franklin County judge extending a temporary restraining order to prevent that from happening.
After an all-day preliminary injunction hearing on Monday, Franklin County Magistrate Jennifer Hunt ruled that the temporary restraining order blocking lawmakers’ attempts to overhaul Ohio’s K-12 education system remains in effect until the court makes a decision on the case, which must happen by Wednesday at noon.
“There is certainly a potential for chaos,” DeWine said during what he called a “very unusual press conference” Monday night. “Questions such as who will send out the checks that go to our public schools across the state of Ohio, who will make the determination about eligibility for school choice. I can not let this situation fester.”
Even though the temporary restraining order is still in effect, the education department changes are still going forward because Tuesday marks 90 days since DeWine signed the state’s operating budget into law which included these changes, DeWine said.
As of Tuesday, he said, the Ohio Department of Education ceases to exist and is now the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, as set forth in the budget DeWine signed into law in July. Interim Superintendent Chris Woolard is in charge of the department.
But it’s more than just a name change. This creates a cabinet-level director position, puts the department under the governor’s office, and limits the State Board of Education’s power to teacher disciplinary and licensure cases and territory disputes.
“We believe, based upon what our lawyers tell us, that the new department can in fact function,” DeWine said.
He said they will follow the court order and not name the new cabinet-level director, even though “we were actively in the process of finding” candidates before the temporary restraining order was put in place.
“We will not take an active part in any way as governor in the creation of the Department of Education and Workforce,” DeWine said. “The new department has money going into that department by reason of the budget that was passed by the General Assembly.”
Seven members of the Ohio State Board of Education filed a lawsuit against DeWine on Sept. 19 in an effort to block the education department changes in the state budget bill. The lawsuit was filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
The original plaintiffs were Christina Collins, Teresa Fedor, Kathleen Hofmann, Tom Jackson, Meryl Johnson, Antoinette Miranda, and Michelle Newman. Franklin County Judge Karen Held Phipps issued the temporary restraining order Sept. 21.
The lawsuit complaint was amended on Sunday and now Collins, Newman, Stephanie Eichenberg and the Toledo Public School Board are the plaintiffs in the case. Eichenberg is a former Toledo Public School Board president. They are being represented by Democracy Forward and Ulmer & Berne LLP.
“The Court already ruled that the DeWine Administration’s takeover of the State Board of Education in Ohio must be halted until it has an opportunity to issue a decision,” Skye Perryman, President and CEO of Democracy Forward, said in Monday night in a statement. “If the Governor is suggesting the state will not comply with the Court’s order, then he would be in contempt of the Court.”
Collins, Eichenberg and Toledo Public School Board President Shenna Barnes testified as plaintiffs, and ODE’s Chief of Staff Jessica Voltolini testified for the defense on Monday.
Collins said during Monday’s hearing that she filed the lawsuit as a concerned parent, not as a state board of education member.
“The public and transparent nature that I have enjoyed for my entire career and my entire time being a parent is gone,” she said. “There is no public debate. There is nothing that I as a parent can follow to understand why things are being done and how those things will my effect my children.”
She is the mother of six children, with four currently attending public schools. She said she has reached out to her state board of education representative over the years about questions and concerns over implementing the state’s dyslexia policy, standardize testing and the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.
Collins, who was elected to the state board of education in 2021, said she started looking into how to file a lawsuit on July 5, a day after DeWine signed the budget into law.
“I felt like this looked like it was similar to the agenda of our human resources committee on a local education board,” Stephanie Eichenberg said during Monday’s hearing when she was asked what she thought of the new responsibilities of the state board of education.
Barnes said her working relationship with the state school board “is very vital” and explained how she has worked with state board of education members to put in legislative changes in place at the local level.
“We need someone who can give us real-time information, that gives us factual information but also responds to us when we ask questions,” Barnes said.
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 State Board of Education is currently made up of 19 members — 11 elected, and eight appointed by Gov. DeWine.
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.
The seven board members who originally filed the lawsuit 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.
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