On Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the lawsuit filed by the Youngstown City School District in response to the passage of HB 70, which made drastic changes to Ohio’s laws on academic distress commissions.

HB 70 was introduced in 2015. When it was introduced, the 10-page bill expanded local school districts’ ability to create “community learning centers.” The Ohio House of Representatives passed HB 70 in May 2015. The bill was sent to the Ohio Senate and was referred to the Senate Education Committee, where it remained unaltered until June 23, 2015.

On June 24, 2015, the Education Committee added a 67-page amendment to HB 70 that revised RC 3302.10 and allowed academic distress commissions to be formed for school districts receiving an “F” on the state’s school district report card. The amendment targeted the Youngstown City School District as the first district to be taken over by a distress commission. It gave the distress commission the authority to appoint a chief executive officer with full “operational, managerial and instructional control” of the district.

The committee passed the bill without allowing for public input on the amendment, and the bill went to the Senate floor that day. The full Senate passed the bill 18-14, and the House agreed to the Senate’s amendments, meaning the bill passed the General Assembly that day. It was later signed into law by Governor Kasich.

In August 2015, the Youngstown City School District filed a lawsuit, asking for a permanent injunction to prevent the law from taking effect. In 2017, the trial court denied the injunction, and the district appealed to the Tenth District Court of Appeals. The Tenth District upheld the trial court’s decision in June 2018 and Youngstown schools appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

The district argued that the legislature violated two sections of the Ohio Constitution when it passed HB 70. First, the district argued that legislators failed to follow the “three-reading rule” in Article II, Section 15(C) of the constitution. The three-reading rule requires every bill to be considered by each house on three different days, unless the House or Senate suspends the rule by a vote of two-thirds of the members. When a bill is “vitally altered,” the three-reading provision is newly triggered. The district argued HB 70 required three more readings, which would have allowed for public input, after it was drastically amended.

The state, however, maintained that the amendment didn’t change the bill’s common purpose, which was “improving under-performing schools” and that both the community learning centers and the academic distress commissions helped to improve schools.

Second, the district argued that the sweeping power granted to an academic distress commission stripped away all authority of the elected local school district board of education, which violates Article VI, Section 3 of the constitution. That provision states that each district has the right to conduct a public vote to determine the members and organization of its school board and “provisions shall be made by law for the exercise of this power by such school districts.”

The state, however, maintained that Article VI, Section 3 gives the state the right to grant powers to academic distress commissions and does not prevent it from transferring power away from a school board to a state-created commission.

OSBA has submitted an amicus brief in support of Youngstown City Schools. An archive of the oral arguments is available online. OSBA will continue to monitor the case and will provide an update on the case once the Supreme Court renders its decision. In the meantime, if you have questions about the case or its impact on Ohio’s school districts, please contact the OSBA division of legal services.

Posted by Sara C. Clark on 10/25/2019