Judge rules overhaul of Ohio K-12 education can begin, DeWine names interim education director
The Ohio Department of Education becomes the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, which creates a cabinet-level director position and puts the department under the governor’s office.
The Ohio Department of Education in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
Control over Ohio K-12 education can officially start to transfer to Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration after a month-long battle in court.
Retired Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Frye denied a preliminary injunction request to stop the transfer of power of K-12 education from the state school board to the governor’s office on Friday, the last day the temporary restraining order was in effect.
“I am thrilled that the restraining order has been dissolved and we can focus on the important work of moving forward to help our kids be better prepared for life after high school, whether choosing additional training, beginning a career, or heading to college,” DeWine said in a statement Friday.
Under the state’s two-year budget, the Ohio Department of Education becomes the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, which creates a cabinet-level director position and puts the department under the governor’s office.
Jessica Voltolini will be the interim director of the Department of Education and Workforce starting Monday, DeWine said.
“She will lead the department as we resume our search for the director and deputy director positions,” he said.
Voltolini most recently served as the Ohio Department of Education’s chief of staff and she was one of two candidates former interim superintendent of public instruction Dr. Stephanie Siddens recommended to fill her role when she left the department earlier this year. The state board of education picked Chris Woolard as the interim state superintendent.
The new law also reduces the State Board of Education’s power to teacher disciplinary and licensure cases and territory disputes. The state board of education no longer has various administrative powers or control over curriculum standards.
Seven members of the Ohio State Board of Education originally filed a lawsuit against Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Sept. 19 in an attempt to block these changes from taking place. Judge Karen Held Phipps issued the temporary restraining order Sept. 21, which was eventually extended until Oct. 20.
“The temporary order we won to stop Gov. DeWine’s education takeover from going into effect was dissolved and an interim order was issued,” Democracy Forward, the plaintiff’s legal counsel, said Friday afternoon in a statement. “We await a final decision on our request to block the law while the case proceeds, and we are confident that democracy and the Ohio Constitution will ultimately prevail.”
On Oct. 1, the lawsuit was amended and State Board of Education members Christina Collins and Michelle Newman, former Toledo Public School Board President Stephanie Eichenberg and the Toledo Public School Board were named the plaintiffs in the case.
Collins, Newman and Eichenberg all have children attending Ohio public schools. The plaintiffs were represented by Democracy Forward and Ulmer & Berne LLP.
Franklin County Magistrate Jennifer Hunt held an all-day preliminary injunction hearing on Oct. 2 and the judge’s temporary restraining order continued, but DeWine held a press conference later that day saying he was going to continue with the changes anyway.
The plaintiffs asked the judge for clarification of the restraining order and the temporary restraining order was extended until Oct. 20.
Chief Counsel and Ethics Officer for the Ohio Attorney General Bridget Coontz, who was representing the original state school board members, was disqualified from being involved in the lawsuit after she sent an Oct. 3 email with legal advice to the counsel for defendants, Julie Pfeiffer, the section chief at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
Ohio State Board of Education
Since Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1953 to create the State Board of Education, the plaintiffs argued these changes in the state budget were unconstitutional.
Hunt, however, disagreed.
“The Legislature has complete authority to grant, or remove, the respective powers and duties of the State Board and the Superintendent, and the State Board has no constitutional right to retain all the powers transferred under the Challenged Provisions,” she wrote in her decision.
The Ohio State Board of Education is currently made up of 19 members — 11 elected and eight appointed by DeWine.
State Superintendent Search
The search firm tasked with identifying superintendent candidates paused their search because of “the recent lawsuit and other events that surround the Board’s current situation,” President of Ray & Associates Michael Collins wrote in an Oct. 9 letter obtained by the Ohio Capital Journal.
“Plaintiffs failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that they will suffer any of their claimed injuries if injunctive relief is denied,” Hunt wrote in her decision. “Defendants argue that an injunction will cause confusion, unrest and chaos for Ohio’s educational system.”
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