Religious group sues state over private-school voucher changes

A Christian lobbying organization, in concert with two religious schools and 19 Ohio residents, filed a legal challenge Monday opposing new state law that delays private-school voucher applications.

Citizens for Community Values, which is known more for opposing gay marriage and pornography, filed the suit with the Ohio Supreme Court. Named as respondents in the suit are Gov. Mike DeWine, who signed the law Friday, along with the Ohio Department of Education and two of its leaders.

FRIDAY: Legislature approves delay in voucher program

The state legislature passed a bill Friday that delays the application process for taxpayer-funded private-school vouchers (also called EdChoice scholarships) by two months. That application window had been scheduled to open Feb. 1, as it has in years past.

Lawmakers of both parties said that the 2020-21 program was in need of changes, but despite weeks of negotiations, they could not come to agreement on the details. The bill passed Friday was designed to give legislators more time to come up with a compromise bill by April 1.

But the lawsuit filed Monday argues that because Friday’s Senate Bill 120 was not passed on an emergency basis, and because it doesn’t contain a certain type of fiscal appropriation, it doesn’t take effect for 90 days.

Citizens for Community Values argues that given those points, the previous EdChoice voucher rules remain in place until May 1, meaning that the Ohio Department of Education “is violating the law by refusing to receive, process, and award EdChoice Scholarships (now).”

EARLIER: Rushed process on school vouchers worries some

State Sen. Matt Huffman, a private-school voucher advocate, made some of those same arguments against the bill on the Senate floor Friday in explaining why he would vote against “some of the poorer legislative draftsmanship I’ve seen.”

Ohio Department of Education officials declined comment on the lawsuit Monday.

Ohio Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) said the legislature’s intent was clear in delaying the application process to come up with a solution that “protects our public schools and provides clarity to families in Ohio, rather than letting the private school voucher system balloon even further.” He urged the legislature to find that solution as soon as possible.

Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Values, said children, parents and educators are paying the price for something “the General Assembly … should have dealt with long ago.”

DECEMBER: High-scoring schools would be subject to voucher

“SB 120 is creating chaos and confusion across Ohio,” Baer said. “Families don’t know where their children are going to attend school, or how to financially plan for the future. Schools cannot budget for the next school year, forecast class sizes and staffing needs, negotiate contracts, or make improvements to their facilities.”

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