Fight over CEO school takeover law reaches state high court

October 25, 2018 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The fight over an Ohio law that puts much control of poor-performing school districts in the hands of unelected CEOs rather than locally elected boards has reached the state Supreme Court.

The court accepted an appeal Wednesday over the divisive changes in the so-called Youngstown Plan and how they were pushed through the Legislature in one day in 2015 in a flurry that upset teachers unions and public school supporters. The bill also gave Ohio academic distress commissions more power to close schools or replace staff in troubled districts such as Youngstown, the first affected by the legislation.

The Youngstown school board and school employees’ unions argue the measure violated the Ohio Constitution by stripping the authority of school districts and boards. They also say the changes were drafted secretly with input from Republican Gov. John Kasich’s administration, then swapped into legislation already under consideration and passed in “a legislative blitzkrieg” that skirted debate and the “Three Reading Rule,” which requires consideration on three separate days if a measure has been significantly changed.

Supporters pointed out that bill already had received some consideration in its earlier version. They say the final version allows needed change in dealing with troubled districts.

Youngstown students “had been victims of a failing system for far too long,” Kasich’s spokesman, Jon Keeling, said in an emailed statement Wednesday. “The legislation the governor signed into law empowers change within failing school districts to help ensure students have opportunities to succeed and that holds great promise for the future.”

A state appeals court that sided with the state concluded the amended version with the Youngstown Plan didn’t have a different purpose than the original proposal, that both were generally about improving failing schools and that lawmakers who opposed it had an opportunity to make such arguments.

The school board and the unions argue the ruling “turned the Three Reading Rule into a mere procedural formality,” and that allowing that to stand would undermine the rule’s function in spurring more thorough consideration of legislative proposals.

Groups representing Ohio school boards, superintendents, teachers and school business officials joined the Youngstown board in urging the court to consider the case, as did the school boards in Lorain and East Cleveland, the other two districts affected by the law so far.