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Ohio Supreme Court To Hear Fight Over School Takeovers

Ohio Supreme Court Gavel statue
Creative Commons
The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments over the school takeover.

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a fight over how the state intervenes in repeatedly poor-performing school districts.

At issue is a state law that shifted operational control of such districts from locally elected boards to unelected CEOs hired by state-appointed academic distress commissions.

The case will be heard not in the traditional courtroom in Columbus, but at a high school in far northwestern Ohio, during one of the court's off-site sessions. Lawyers for each side will get 15 minutes to make their arguments to justices in the auditorium and cafeteria space at Montpelier Junior and Senior High School in Williams County.

That is across the state from Youngstown, home to the first troubled district affected by the law on so-called state takeovers.

The Youngstown school board and school employees' unions have challenged the law, arguing it violates the Ohio Constitution by stripping school boards' authority. They also contend lawmakers violated a procedural rule and skirted more thorough debate about changes made to the divisive House Bill 70 when it was pushed through the Legislature in one day in 2015.

The state denies those claims and has defended the law, arguing that the bill was given appropriate consideration throughout the legislative process, was always aimed at improving education in failing districts, and didn't take away all the powers of affected school boards.

An appeals court previously sided with the state.

Two other districts affected by the law had echoed the Youngstown board's push for the Ohio Supreme Court to consider the case. Groups representing Ohio school boards, superintendents, teachers and school business officials joined that chorus, too.

Even as the legal challenge has proceeded, lawmakers have been considering different proposals about changing or undoing the law. They have yet to reach agreement on a plan.