Inviting the Fox Right Into the Henhouse

Ohio sends $1 billion every year out of its public education budget to charter schools and vouchers.  According to Doug Livingston at the Akron Beacon-Journal, Ohio’s charter schools and their sponsors are so poorly regulated by the state legislature that the private companies hired by nonprofits to manage their charter schools have been known to recruit (and fire) members of the boards whose responsibility it is to oversee and regulate the management companies.  “In Ohio, charter schools are required to satisfy strict federal guidelines as nonprofit organizations under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue code, including board autonomy.  If the board is not independent of the company, the IRS is supposed to throw up a red flag.  But state law allows private companies to throw out non-profit boards that challenge them.”  White Hat Management is known for such practices.

Leaders in the state legislature that brought Ohio this lucrative arrangement for wealthy White Hat charter czar David Brennan and cyber-charter parasite William Lager, the owner of two privately-held companies that siphon $100 million annually from Ohio’s school budget for the services provided to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, now want to remove the constitutional checks and balances that protect the allocation and distribution of the state’s public school budget.

The legislature has created a Constitutional Modernization Commission that seeks to remove the state’s public education clause from the 160-year-old Ohio Constitution.  Writing for the Akron Beacon-Journal, Carol Biliczky reports that the Commission’s education committee chair, Chad Readler, a Columbus attorney who has prominently represented the interests of charter schools in recent years, “suggested removing the ‘thorough and efficient’ clause because it is hard to define and interpret and has produced a series of closely decided court decisions.”

The clause to which Readler refers is the very constitutional language that protects adequate and equitably distributed funding across the over 600 school districts in Ohio.  Biliczky quotes Nick Pittner, the attorney who argued the DeRolph school funding litigation for 500 plaintiff school districts who brought the case to demand that Ohio school funding be increased and distributed fairly.  According to Pittner, Readler’s proposal now before the Constitutional Modernization Commission would “remove the courts from any role in determining the appropriateness of public education provided by the Ohio General Assembly.  It’s not in the interest of Ohio in general or school children to remove the courts from oversight.”

The proposal now before the Commission would render school funding in Ohio not subject to judicial review by removing the language that establishes judicial oversight.  Columbus Dispatch reporter Darrel Roland reminds us that in the past those who sought to reduce the state’s investment in public education have made the case that school funding be left solely up to the legislature and be rendered non-justiciable:

“In a March 1997 ruling that later became known as DeRolph I after its lead plaintiff, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Francis Sweeney determined that ‘the facts documented in the record lead to one inescapable conclusion—Ohio’s elementary and secondary public schools are neither thorough nor efficient.’ ‘In reaching this conclusion, we dismiss as unfounded any suggestion that the problems presented by this case should be left for the General Assembly to resolve.'”  Sweeney’s words were prophetic. In 2002, after the elected Ohio Supreme Court changed parties and subsequently released jurisdiction in the DeRolph case, the legislature of Ohio has never felt obliged to design a remedy that would address voluntarily “the problems presented by this case.”

There is no reason to imagine that the Constitutional Modernization Commission’s proposal to remove the court’s protection of school funding equity and adequacy—by removing the court’s check and balance on the legislature—would serve Ohio’s children as well as leaving the state constitution alone.  The Education Law Center points out that in a recent school funding decision in Kansas, the supreme court of Kansas described the importance of the language that is in our state constitutions.  “Matters intended for permanence are placed in constitutions for a reason—to protect them from the vagaries of politics….”

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