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Government/Politics

Leader Of Ohio Districts Opposing Vouchers Expects Lawsuit To Be Filed Soon

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Karen Kasler
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The new two-year Ohio budget includes a plan for the state to directly fund charter schools, and gives more money for taxpayer-paid vouchers for kids to go to non-public schools. With the budget in place, voucher opponents say they’re preparing to file a lawsuit that’s been months in the making.

The lawsuit from the group calling itself Vouchers Hurt Ohio will claim the state is illegally pouring money into school choice rather than funding the fair and efficient system of common schools as required by the Ohio Constitution.

Bill Phillis sued the state over school funding in 1997 and won. He’s now leading this suit, saying lawmakers have also expanded eligibility for vouchers and are considering a bill for universal vouchers for all students.

Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, which filed the DeRolph v. Ohio lawsuit over school funding in 1991. The Ohio Supreme Court's ruling that the system was unconstitutional came down in 1997.
Credit Karen Kasler

“This state has invested more than $20 billion in vouchers, charter schools and direct funding of private schools," Phillis said. "Now, that's unconscionable when all this time we've had an unconstitutional school funding system.”

Phillis said the new budget is of particular concern to the group, since lawmakers upped the dollar amounts for vouchers in it.

"They increased the value of high school vouchers from $6,000 to $7,500, which is a 25% increase. I've been involved in school funding issues for a few years and in fact, a few decades. And I've never seen a 25% increase go to the public system," Phillis said. "Then on the K-12 level, the value of the voucher is increased from $4,500 to $5,500, about a 22% increase."

77 public school districts have joined the Vouchers Hurt Ohio group, but Phillis expects more before the suit is filed.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that the Cleveland Scholarship program is constitutional and a matter of "true private choice" if it and other voucher programs are run based on financial need and residence within a school district and without favoring religious schools over secular ones.

And voucher supporters in Ohio have said since they're taxpayers, they're entitled to get that money because they're not sending their kids to traditional public schools.

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