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State Defends School Takeover Law In Ohio Supreme Court Case

School bus
Creative Commons

Lawmakers didn't violate the Ohio Constitution or a procedural rule when they passed a law that shifted control of poor-performing school districts, the state argued in a new filing at the Ohio Supreme Court, which is considering a case challenging the law.

The measure puts operational control of such districts in the hands of unelected CEOs hired by state-appointed academic distress commissions, instead of their locally elected school boards. The version of the bill that contained those changes was pushed through the Legislature in one day in 2015 in a flurry that upset teachers unions and public school supporters.

The school board in Youngstown, the first troubled district affected by the legislation, and school employees' unions argue the so-called Youngstown Plan violates the constitution by stripping school boards' authority. They also say lawmakers rushed the changes into legislation about improving schools that was already under consideration, skirting more thorough debate and the "Three Reading Rule" requiring repeated consideration of legislation on different days if a measure has been significantly changed.

In a filing Monday, the state and its Department of Education argued those claims aren't true and that the law should stand.

They said the bill had the same purpose — improving education in failing school districts — throughout the course of the legislative process, was given appropriate consideration, and didn't remove all powers of the affected school boards.

They also urged the state's high court to overrule precedent from a previous case and declare that courts can't review whether a bill complies with the "Three Reading Rule" beyond checking whether legislative journals indicate the House and Senate each considered a measure on three separate days.

"This division of authority is a matter of respect between coordinate branches: just as the legislature must not intrude on the judicial power by supervising the writing of judicial opinions, the courts should not intrude on the legislative power by supervising the writing of the laws," they wrote.

An appeals court previously sided with the state.

Groups representing Ohio school boards, superintendents, teachers and school business officials had joined the Youngstown board in urging the court to consider the case, as did school boards in Lorain and East Cleveland, two other districts affected by the law.