Challenge to school Academic Distress commission going before Ohio high court
The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday to decide if Ohio lawmakers violated the state constitution when they approved the takeover of under-performing schools like Youngstown's City Schools.
The justices will hear the case the Youngstown Board of Education argues that House Bill 70 is unconstitutional.
In 2015, the Ohio House approved the ten-page long House Bill 70, which expanded local school districts' ability to create "community learning centers."
On the last day of the legislative session, unbeknownst to lawmakers from the Valley, the Senate Education Committee added a 67-page amendment that included a revised version of Ohio's law allowing academic distress commissions to be formed for school districts receiving an "F" on the state's school district report card.
The amendment targeted the Youngstown City School District as the first district to be taken over by a distress commission, which gives an appointed chief executive officer sweeping control of the district.
Opponents of the new measure asked the committee chair for time to review and comment on the amendment but were told that legislative leaders and Gov. John Kasich's office insisted it was to be considered that day. The committee passed the bill without allowing for public input on the amendment, and the bill went to the Senate floor that day.
The Senate passed the bill, and the House agreed to the Senate's amendments. It was signed into law by Kasich.
The Youngstown Board of Education argues not only that lawmakers violated a state constitutional provision requiring three readings when a bill is “vitally altered”, but also that the constitution prevents the legislature from passing a law that transfers control of a school district to a commission that doesn't report to an elected local board of education.
Representing the state, the Ohio Attorney General argues the Senate read H.B. 70 two times when the bill was introduced in the Senate and when it was referred to the Education Committee on May 2015. It was read a third time when it was brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
The attorney general also argues that the state maintains that the constitution only empowers those who live in the school district to determine the size of the school board and to select the members, and the state maintains the right to grant powers to academic distress commissions.
The state says distress commissions don't take away control of local schools from the school district since local authorities appoint the commission members, and the CEO appointed by the commission meets with local groups to gather input for developing a plan to get the district out of academic distress.
The Franklin County Common Pleas Court denied the board of education's request for an injunction to keep the law from going into effect, and an appeals court upheld the lower court's decision.
Several school boards and unions representing educators have filed briefs in support of the Youngstown School Board's lawsuit.
The court will begin its session at 9 a.m. Wednesday during a special session being held at Montpelier Jr./Sr High School in Montpelier, Ohio.
A group calling itself the Community Leadership Coalition on Coalition will take a busload of people opposed to HB 70 to Montpelier on Wednesday to show their support for the Youngstown Board of Education.
The bus will leave the New Bethel Baptist Church in Youngstown at 4:15 a.m.