DeWine: Education services will continue in Ohio despite court order

Members of Ohio State of Board of Education file counter court motion asking court to keep former department.

A court order has blocked the creation of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, which was intended to go into effect at midnight Tuesday, complicating payments to local public schools and families using vouchers.

The court order was in response to a lawsuit filed in September from seven members of the Ohio State Board of Education, which oversees the Ohio Department of Education. The seven members said moving many of the oversight powers of the state school board to the governor’s office violated the Ohio constitution.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said many of the services currently provided by the Ohio Department of Education which, under the most recent budget, were expected to move to the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, will continue.

“We have good people in the department,” DeWine said Monday night. “We ask them to come to work tomorrow. And let’s move the state forward.”

DeWine said he won’t appoint a new director or deputy director of the new department.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed a counter motion on Tuesday to clarify the court’s order and stop the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce from moving. Plaintiffs asked both the magistrate and the judge in the case to add specific language to the court order stating the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio superintendent of public instruction would continue on as they had prior to Oct. 3.

The judge in the case has requested both parties submit briefs by noon on Wednesday, Oct. 4. The court order will remain in place until the court has issued a ruling on questions raised in a hearing that occurred Monday.

DeWine said the governor’s office is interpreting the court’s order not to create a new department as to take no action toward the Department of Education and Workforce. But he said ODEW will be created at midnight, no matter what a judge says, because of the way the budget was written.

“In law, the Ohio Department of Education no longer exists,” said Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who joined DeWine during a press conference on Monday night. “The Department of Education and Workforce exists.”

DeWine said the state would make sure that checks to employees continue to go out. Chris Woolard has been appointed the interim superintendent of public instruction.

DeWine said the state will continue to move forward, while being respectful of the judge and the court orders.

“We had to try to make some common sense decisions, comply with the specific things that the court told us to do,” DeWine said. “But it left a whole bunch of other areas unanswered, and we have to fill this vacuum. I intend to fill this vacuum.”

Democracy Forward and Ulmer & Berne LLP are providing legal representation for the plaintiffs.

“Make no mistake, the Court already ruled that the DeWine Administration’s takeover of the State Board of Education in Ohio must be halted until it has an opportunity to issue a decision,” said Skye Perryman, President and CEO of Democracy Forward. “If the Governor is suggesting the state will not comply with the Court’s order, then he would be in contempt of the Court. On behalf of our clients, Democracy Forward will continue to defend democracy and public education in Ohio.”

Perryman called DeWine’s move Monday night “a blatant violation of the court’s orders.”

Michelle Newman of Newark, one of the seven members of the State Board of Education participating in the lawsuit, said she joined the lawsuit because she felt parents’ voices were being silenced.

“I feel these changes really have completely removed my voice as a parent from the process of being able to give public, transparent feedback on what’s happening with the state of education,” Newman said.

But both DeWine and Husted noted that the state still does not have a permanent superintendent of public instruction, a talking point that many members of the statehouse have pointed to as an argument for moving many of the powers of the state school board.

The state has been without a permanent state superintendent since former state superintendent Paolo DeMaria left in September 2021. In May 2022, the state hired Steve Dackin as the state superintendent, but he resigned after only a few weeks on the job after controversy about how he was hired, with accusations of ethics violations.

Stephanie Siddens served as interim superintendent after DeMaria left and returned to the role after Dackin left. She has since left the department for a position with Upper Arlington schools.

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