Ohio court OKs GOP-backed education overhaul, says stalling would cause ‘chaos’ as lawsuit continues

The headquarters of the Ohio Department of Education in downtown Columbus, Ohio, is pictured...
The headquarters of the Ohio Department of Education in downtown Columbus, Ohio, is pictured on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)(Julie Carr Smyth | AP)
Published: Oct. 20, 2023 at 3:12 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Republican-backed overhaul of Ohio’s public education system can continue operating even as a lawsuit claiming it violates the state constitution makes its way through the courts, a county magistrate ruled Friday.

Indefinitely stalling the conversion of the Ohio Department of Education to the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, which shifts educational oversight from a mostly citizen-elected state school board to the governor, would cause broader harm than letting it be implemented, Franklin Common Pleas Court Magistrate Jennifer Hunt said in a decision obtained by The Associated Press.

A judge must still sign off on Hunt’s ruling.

The overhaul comes as GOP-led states in recent years have increasingly focused on education oversight, seeking to push back against what they see as a liberal tide in public education classrooms, libraries and sports fields. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said the change will revamp a failing, disorganized system, but opponents fear giving more control to the governor’s office would result in partisan oversight over schools, not more accountability.

The lawsuit filed in September by parents and the Toledo School Board alleges that the new system Republican lawmakers created violates the Ohio Constitution on multiple grounds, including stripping the state board of most of its powers, which include setting academic standards and school curricula.

The plaintiffs argue that disregards the intention of a 1953 state constitutional amendment that mandated the creation of the state board in order to give people more say than their governor in children’s education.

Hunt agreed the plaintiffs have grounds to sue but denied their request for a preliminary injunction to keep the new department from running while the courts hear the case.

In previous hearings, the plaintiffs argued they would be harmed by the new department’s shift in leadership from the school board to a governor-appointed director, citing reduced transparency under the new department and fear that they would no longer have the ears of individuals who can actually do something about concerns for their children’s education.

Hunt ruled the new department has systems in place to provide transparency, such as mandated stakeholder outreach, and school board members are still able to voice their constituents’ concerns to the new director even if they can’t directly act on them.

The plaintiffs also failed to prove that no third party would be harmed by the injunction, Hunt said. She agreed with DeWine’s administration that to block the new department from operating would cause “confusion, unrest and chaos for Ohio’s educational system.”

Legal counsel for the plaintiffs said in a statement that they still have grounds to sue and “remain confident that democracy and the Ohio constitution will ultimately prevail.”

Dan Tierney, a spokesperson for DeWine, said that the ruling is a “positive development” for the governor’s office and Ohio’s education system.


Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.