COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — At least part of a Republican-backed overhaul of the Ohio’s K-12 education system will take effect as planned, despite a court order Monday delaying the changes after a lawsuit said they violate the constitution.
The Ohio Department of Education and Workforce will replace the Ohio Department of Education, GOP Gov. Mike DeWine said in a news conference, assuring that operations like school funding, approval of voucher applications and other “essential functions of government” will continue.
The governor’s announcement came minutes after Franklin County Court Magistrate Jennifer Hunt ordered the extension of a previous temporary restraining order on the overhaul until a judge can sign off on whether to put it on hold indefinitely.
“It’s important that support be given to our teachers. It’s important for our school children in the state of Ohio,” DeWine said. “As governor, I’m not going to allow this situation to exist where we don’t know where we’re going because of this court ruling.”
Under the latest state budget that enshrined the overhaul into law, the current ODE ceases to exist at midnight Tuesday. That same law, DeWine argues, mandates the existence of the DEW immediately after the old department is void, with or without him doing anything about it.
But to comply with the court order, DeWine said, his office and the rest of the executive branch will not take “any affirmative action” on major decisions still pending, such as appointing a new director of the DEW and transferring department powers to that person. In the meantime, DEW will be led by the current interim state superintendent of public instruction, Chris Woolard.
“We believe based on what our lawyers tell us that the new department can in fact function,” DeWine said.
Skye Perryman, president and CEO of Democracy Forward, a national legal services nonprofit that is representing the board members and parents who filed the lawsuit, said they will “continue to defend democracy and public education in Ohio” and reminded the governor that if he doesn’t comply with the order, he could be in contempt of court.
Under the overhaul, oversight of Ohio’s education department would shift from the Ohio State Board of Education and the superintendent it elects to a director appointed by the governor. Many of the board’s other powers, including decisions on academic standards and school curricula, would be transferred to the new director.
The lawsuit brought against DeWine and the state challenges its constitutionality on multiple grounds.
First, the suit contends, the overhaul strips a constitutionally created and citizen-elected board of most of its duties and gives undue power to the governor. Second, it violates Ohio’s “single subject rule” by shoving a massive measure into the state budget so close to the budget deadline out of fear it would not pass as its own bill. And finally, the budget didn’t receive the constitutionally mandated number of readings after the education measure was added.
The lawsuit was initially brought by seven state board members, and they were joined Monday by new plaintiffs: the Toledo Board of Education and three parents of public school children. Two of the parents are current state BOE members.
The education overhaul has been controversial since it was first introduced in the Legislature in 2022.
Supporters say it will bring order to what they see as a disorganized system bogged down by political infighting that, as a result, hasn’t addressed issues facing Ohio’s schoolchildren.(backslash)Teachers’ groups, including the Ohio Federation of Teachers, say the changes will bring less order and more blatant partisanship to education.