Last week, the U.S. District Court concluded that the territory transfer law enacted in the 2019-2020 biennial budget bill violated the Ohio Constitution. As a result, six territory transfers enacted under the law were halted and two territory transfer matters that were to be on the ballot in November are now moot.
The decision came in the lawsuit Plain Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn. v. DeWine. It originated when the General Assembly enacted Ohio Revised Code (RC) 3311.242, creating a new mechanism for territory transfers, in the last biennial budget bill, House Bill (HB) 166. The OSBA Legal Assistance Fund filed an amicus brief in the case.
RC 3311.242 allowed owners of property in any township with more than one school district to petition to move their property from one school district to the other. In order to be placed on the ballot, the petition had to have signatures from at least 10% of the electors residing in the territory to be transferred. If the transfer was approved by voters, the district board losing the territory was required to notify the State Board of Education. Unlike the existing territory transfer law, which requires the State Board to approve the transfer from one district to another, RC 3311.242 only required the State Board to approve an agreement memorializing the transfer after is have been approved by voters.
The language became effective on Oct. 17, 2019. Shortly thereafter, a group of homeowners from the Village of Hills and Dales used the new process and requested that their territory be transferred from Plain Local (Stark) to Jackson Local (Stark). Plain Local filed suit in federal court to block the transfer from taking place. Essentially, Plain Local argued that, if allowed, the transfer could increase segregation and undermine students’ rights to an equal education.
The U.S. District Court concluded that inclusion of the new transfer statute in the biennial budget bill was a violation of Ohio Constitutional Art. II, Sec. 115(D), the one-subject rule: “[N]o bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.” The court found that the language, added as an amendment toward the end of the consideration of HB 166, was a significant, substantive and controversial amendment to the bill. The court found that the transfer language, which was "slipped in as two pages of a bill over 1,000 times that length," didn’t have a “discernible practical, rational or legitimate relationship” to the budget and should not have been added to the bill. The court concluded that, because there was no common purpose or relationship between the transfer statute and the state budget, it violated the one-subject rule.
The division of legal services will continue to monitor the case and will report if there is an appeal to the case or the provisions in RC 3311.242 is reintroduced in the General Assembly.