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Ohio Ed Board Members Sue State Over Law Creating New, Separate Education Agency

Ohio’s recently-passed state budget created a new education department that some board members say is unconstitutional.

Mike DeWine gives his victory speech after winning the Ohio gubernatorial race at the Ohio Republican Party's election night party at the Sheraton Capitol Square on November 6, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio.

Several members of the Ohio state Board of Education have filed a lawsuit against the state of Ohio and Gov. Mike DeWine (R), alleging that recent changes by him and the Republican-controlled state legislature violate the state constitution.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday by seven members of the board, claims that aspects of the bill usurp the constitutional authority of the Board of Education by creating a new department and governor-appointed position that will oversee education issues in the state instead.

The new agency — the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) — was established in the state budget in June. Republican lawmakers had initially tried to create the department through standalone legislation; when they were unable to secure enough votes to do so, they inserted provisions of that legislation into the budget (House Bill 33), which was then passed by the state legislature and signed into law by DeWine.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that lawmakers illegally “shoehorned” the provision into the budget, violating a constitutional provision on “logrolling” (the trading of votes or favors between lawmakers) and subverting a more than seven-decades-old policy of allowing voters in the state to play a direct role in managing the state Department of Education.

The plaintiffs — board members Christina Collins, Teresa Fedor, Katie Hofmann, Tom Jackson, Meryl Johnson, Antoinette Miranda and Michelle Newman — are asking for a temporary restraining order on the provision of HB 33 establishing DEW, as well as a ruling finding the decision to establish a new education department, led by a governor-appointed position, unconstitutional.

The board is composed of 19 members, 11 of whom are selected by voters within boundary-drawn districts in the state. Those individuals, who are officially nonpartisan, select a state superintendent, who develops academic standards in Ohio along with the board.

Ohio Republican lawmakers say the legislature has the right to change the duties of the state Board of Education, and to establish new agencies like DEW to take over their primary duties. But the plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the state constitution says otherwise.

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs said that the new state budget “strips parents, local school districts, and communities of their voices” when it comes to educational matters and instead unjustly “gives that power to the governor.”

“We will not sit back and let stand such a brazen power-grab that flies in the face of Ohio residents who value local input and control over their children’s education,” the press release added.

Skye Perryman, President & CEO of Democracy Forward, the organization representing the seven plaintiffs in the lawsuit, added that the budget bill is “a prime example of the broader movement by extremist-controlled governors’ mansions and legislatures to deprive communities of meaningful representation.”

“The trend of anti-democratic attacks on public education in states across the country, from Florida to Ohio, is a key tactic in the extremist playbook to undermine our democracy at any cost,” Perryman added. “And when they break the law, we will use all the legal tools we have to fight back.”

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