COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A growing number of school districts are joining a lawsuit against the state, pushing back against private school vouchers. The lawsuit was filed last year and is awaiting trial.
“Vouchers are going on trial,” Dayton Public Schools board member Jocelyn Rhynard said. “And we will make our case in the court of law, where the law matters, and the constitution cannot be ignored.”
The state’s recently enacted budget gives every student the chance to apply for school vouchers, which allow public school students to go to a private or charter school, partly or fully on the taxpayers’ dime. The state budget also fully funds public schools.
“It provides public education but also gives parents the choice to decide where and how their child is going to be educated,” Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) said on June 30, the day the budget passed the Statehouse.
In 2022, a lawsuit was filed, challenging the constitutionality of the private school voucher program. The coalition behind the lawsuit said vouchers take funding away from public schools.
“Vouchers hurt Ohio,” high school teacher and President of the Ohio Education Association Scott DiMauro said. “Let’s start with the most essential point: the tax dollars going to the private school vouchers come from the same line item in the budget that funds public schools.”
Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said that before this budget, money would go the public schools, then if a student left, the money was taken away, sometimes at twice the rate. He said this new budget formula directly funds the private school voucher program instead, while fully funding public schools.
“That money doesn’t get taken from the public schools now, so that’s the great thing about it,” Edwards said on June 30, the day the budget passed the Statehouse.
But the coalition behind the lawsuit, called “Vouchers Hurt Ohio,” said it is still not convinced.
Expanding voucher eligibility was a priority for Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima). The coalition behind the lawsuit said Huffman and State Auditor Keith Faber (R-Ohio) have tried to intimidate the schools that are part of the lawsuit.
In May, 1,057 school districts received a survey link from the auditor of state, asking, “Has your school district contributed public funds, directly or indirectly, to the Ed Choice/Voucher Hurt Ohio Lawsuit in any fiscal year?”
“What you have here is an effort to bully school districts,” Superintendent of LaBrae Local Schools A.J. Calderone said.
In a statement, spokesperson for Senate Republicans John Fortney said, “Following another record billion-dollar investment in K-12 schools, Bill Phillis’ group thinks it has unlimited funds to target, sue and intimidate parents who simply want the best educational option for their children. Parents would never dream that their school district’s tax dollars are going to fund a special interest lawsuit targeting their families, but that is exactly how low this group will go.”
The response to the initial survey was less than 40%.
In a statement, Faber spokesperson Marc Kovac said, “Their refusal to readily share their spending decisions raises questions about how they are spending public dollars.”
The districts that did not respond received a notice (below) telling them they had until June 9 to fill out the survey, or the auditor’s office would “take steps necessary to obtain the information.”
“The concern was, ‘Are districts contributing going to have a target on their back,’” Calderone said.
The auditor’s office said the purpose of the inquiry is to “provide greater transparency, pursuant to a request from the general assembly.”
In the statement, Faber’s office said, “The Auditor of State’s Office routinely assists the State Legislature in the performance of its constitutional oversight duties… The Auditor, the Legislature, and the public are entitled to this information, period. It is improper and shameful that a number of school districts, their lawyers and an issue advocacy group would rather attempt to hide this information than to meet their legal transparency obligations.”
“This was not about fact-finding; this was about harassment and intimidation and bullying,” Calderone said.
When the suit was first filed, 100 schools signed on; now there are 250 supporting the litigation.
The full lawsuit can be read below.
Now that more students are eligible for school vouchers, DiMauro said private and charter schools need to be held accountable.
“The schools are not held to academic accountability standards in any way remotely similar to what public schools are,” he said. “These private schools are handling, collectively, millions and millions and millions of state tax dollars with no sunshine in how those decisions are made on the spending of those dollars.”
Edwards agreed, saying, “The biggest problem now is making sure we have apples-to-apples comparison in the standards and accountability. We have to figure out as a state how we can compare these schools adequately.”