A school-choice/charter-school advocate has proposed that the constitution be revised to eliminate any constitutional requirement for an adequate system of public schools.
By Carol Biliczky
Beacon Journal staff writer
Published: April 14, 2014 - 10:50 PM | Updated: April 15, 2014 - 10:57 AM
Charter school advocate wants to strip requirement for public schools from Ohio Constitution April 15,2014 02:57 PM GMT Carol Biliczky Beacon Journal Publishing Co. Copyright ? 2014 Beacon Journal Publishing Co. Inc and Black Press. All Rights Reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of any of the contents of this service without the express written consent of the Akron Beacon Journal is expressly prohibited.
COLUMBUS: The phrase in the Ohio Constitution that requires the state to provide an adequate system of public schools would be stricken from the document if the head of a constitutional modernization subcommittee has his way.
Chairman Chad Readler, a Columbus attorney who leads the Constitutional Modernization Commission’s schools and local government committee, wants to remove the phrase “thorough and efficient” from Article VI of the Constitution.
Readler, who is actively involved in the privately run charter school movement, is among 32 Ohio community leaders and legislators looking at ways to modernize the Constitution for recommendations to the legislature. Readler was selected by House leadership to run the subcommittee.
Readler said the current Constitution was written 160 years ago, when, “We didn’t have any coordinated public school system. We’ve obviously moved dramatically in that regard.”
He said he suggested removing the “thorough and efficient” clause because it is hard to define and interpret and has produced a series of closely decided court decisions.
That phrase was the basis for the Ohio Supreme Court’s landmark DeRolph v. State ruling in which the high court four times, beginning in 1997, found the system of funding public education to have failed tens of thousands of children.
Public education is the single largest expenditure of public dollars in Ohio, and the court ruled that the state had failed to define and adequately fund a “thorough and efficient” system of schools that adequately served all children.
Justice Francis E. Sweeney Sr., who wrote the majority opinion, scolded the legislature by calling for a “systematic overhaul” of public education, citing examples of unsafe buildings and poor academic programming in some districts while many suburban districts enjoyed great wealth.
“Today, Ohio stands at a crossroads,” he wrote. “We must decide whether the promise of providing to our youth a free, public elementary and secondary education in a ‘thorough and efficient system’ has been fulfilled. The importance of this case cannot be overestimated.”
Readler said the legislative and executive branches are best poised to decide education policy and that the check on their actions is re-election, not the courts.
State Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Township north of Cincinnati, said he likes that it is up to the legislature to decide what is equitable in the school system.
“It makes it clear we’re trusting our elected officials to do their job and to not become overly prescriptive here,” he said in an April 10 Gongwer legislative news story.
Others are not so sure that sensitive issues like funding should be left in the hands of legislators.
“Scary stuff,” said Columbus attorney Nick Pittner, who argued the DeRolph case for the more than 500 school districts that believed the funding formula of property taxes and state subsidies was unfair to smaller and poorer districts.
Readler’s proposal would “remove the courts from any role in determining the appropriateness of public education provided by the Ohio General Assembly,” he said.
“It’s not in the interest of Ohio in general or school children to remove the courts from oversight,” he said.
Pittner built a case showing that children in Vinton County had no cafeteria and had to cross a busy highway to eat at a diner, and that at another, scaffolding was erected to prevent children from being hit by bricks falling from the walls.
Edward Gilbert, an Akron attorney, also objected.
“The reason I say that is: What has the legislature done in terms of funding? The Supreme Court has said four or five times that the way we’re funding is inappropriate,” he said in the Gongwer legislative news story. He could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Readler said his Education, Public Institutions and Miscellaneous and Local Government Committee will consider new language to the Constitution for the rest of the year.
“This is in the early stages of being discussed,” he said. “We welcome input. That’s the whole point, to have a Constitution that serves Ohio well into the future.”
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.