Last week the Columbus Dispatch reported that the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission’s Committee on Education, Public Institutions and Local Government voted unanimously to retain the language by which the courts can hold the state’s legislature responsible for funding “a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state.”
In other words, by agreeing to leave the language protecting Ohio’s provision of adequate public education for our children in the state constitution, the committee charged by the current legislature to suggest updates to the language of the constitution agreed to continue protecting education through the old concept of checks and balances. While you might have learned about the need for checks and balances in your high school civics class, its importance in 2015 has been a huge battle across Ohio for over a year now.
Why was there any question? According to the Dispatch: “The 164-year-old phrase has defined Ohio’s school-funding battles, including four straight 4-3 rulings by the Ohio Supreme Court through 2002 declaring the state’s setup unconstitutional.” Opponents of adequate funding for public education hoped to remove the language that forces our state to provide public schools that are well enough funded to serve the needs of all children.
The constitutional modernization commission’s education committee was chaired by Columbus attorney Chad Readler, an advocate for expanding charter schools. “Readler, who successfully defended the constitutionality of Ohio’s charter schools in the state Supreme Court,” was part of the group who “pushed to trim or eliminate the language to limit the courts’ influence over education policy.” “He touched off the vigorous discussion in April by suggesting a change that would have required the General Assembly only to ‘provide for the organization, administration and control of the public-school system of the state supported by public funds.'” By Readler’s suggestion, any amount of money allocated would have passed constitutional muster.
It is possible that one reason Readler’s suggestions were defeated is that in Ohio the public is becoming aware that the legislature is not fulfilling its responsibility for oversight of charter schools, virtually unregulated due to lavish campaign contributions from the for-profit charter operators.
The primary reason Readler’s suggestions were blocked, however, has been a year-long campaign against Readler’s suggestions by members of the public including leading attorneys and law professors, a campaign led by Bill Phillis, the executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, the coalition of school districts that successfully sued the state in the long running DeRolph school finance litigation. Phillis must be honored as a warrior for justice for Ohio’s children. He never gives up. Thank you, Bill.