Eric Brown
Eric Brown
Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding

COLUMBUS – A coalition of public school districts filed a lawsuit today in Franklin County Common Pleas court challenging the constitutionality of the rapidly growing private school voucher program that is siphoning away hundreds of millions of dollars from public school students, teachers, classrooms and communities.

Former Ohio Supreme Court chief justice and current Columbus City Schools board member Eric Brown said the lawsuit asks the judicial system a simple, but critical question:

“Where does the Ohio General Assembly get the power to fund private school vouchers? That power is nowhere to be found in the Ohio Constitution. In fact, the Ohio Constitution forbids it. Lawmakers have the authority and responsibility to fund “a” system of “common schools,” with common standards and resources for all of Ohio’s taxpayers, parents, and students," Brown said at a press conference today outlining the lawsuit.

“Funding schools that aren’t for everybody is not the business of the Ohio General Assembly, and it is not the responsibility of Ohio taxpayers to pay for these private schools,” Brown said. “The Ohio General Assembly either knows they are violating the Ohio Constitution and doesn’t care or the members who support expanding the private school vouchers need a history lesson themselves.”

William L. Phillis, executive director for the Coalition of Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, was instrumental in leading the successful court challenge to the way Ohio pays for public schools during the 1990s.

“The DeRolph school funding lawsuit was the case of the 20th century. The EdChoice private school voucher lawsuit we filed today is destined to be the case of the 21st Century,” Phillis said. “In fact, the private school voucher system is siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars from an already underfunded system of public schools. The legislature and the governor are putting our state and our public school children at risk and they admit it."

Nneka Jackson, a school board member with the Richmond Heights School District in Cuyahoga County, said private school vouchers are making school segregation in Ohio worse, not better.

“If someone tells you this is about helping poor minority children, hook them up to a lie detector test asap and stand back because the sparks are going to fly,” Jackson said.

“About 40 percent of Richmond Heights residents are white. Before the EdChoice private school voucher program, about 26 percent of the students in the Richmond Heights School District were white and 74 percent were students of color. Today, after EdChoice, Richmond Heights is three percent white and 97 percent students of color," Jackson said.

“Private schools are allowed to discriminate, plain and simple, based on disability, disciplinary records, academic standings, religion and financial status. These are often proxies for race and other protected characteristics. Ohio is essentially engaged in state-sponsored discrimination in admissions and retention. You know who can’t do this? Public schools. Common schools,” Jackson said.

Dan Heintz, a school board member in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District, said his district lost more than $27 million to private school vouchers, and this forced voters to pass two levies to raise property taxes.

Heintz said 95 percent of our EdChoice voucher users have never been enrolled in one of our schools.

"So, contrary to the narrative, these families aren’t fleeing a failing school.”The only thing they’re fleeing is a tuition bill. A private school tuition bill that is now being paid by Ohio taxpayers," Heintz said.

Eric Resnick, a school board member for Canton City Schools in Stark County, said high school students receive a $7,500 voucher while public school students receive far less from the state in basic education funding.

There is no truth to the claim by voucher proponents that “the money follows the student,” Resnick said. “To those who say the money should follow the student, I ask why the discrepancy? Why should voucher students get $7,500 and some public school students get one-fifth or less than that amount? If the money was truly following the student, then each public school student would also receive $7,500.”

The E&A Coalition is working with Vouchers Hurt Ohio, a growing coalition of public school districts that have come together to sue the state over the unconstitutional and harmful private school voucher program. Vouchers Hurt Ohio now has nearly 100 member school districts in 47 of Ohio's 88 counties that open their doors wide and welcoming to more than 250,000 public school students.