COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Ohio State Board of Education lost most of its powers after Friday while a lawsuit continues forward.
A Franklin County magistrate on Friday declined to issue a preliminary injunction against a planned overhaul of the state education agency, determining plaintiffs’ claims that the overhaul violates the state constitution are unlikely to succeed on the merits.
With a judge’s approval Friday afternoon, a temporary restraining order blocking the overhaul has been dissolved, ushering in the transfer of most of the education board’s powers to a governor-appointed position.
“Today, the temporary order we won to stop Gov. DeWine’s education takeover from going into effect was dissolved and an interim order was issued,” the plaintiffs’ legal counsel said in a statement. “We await a final decision on our request to block the law while the case proceeds, and we are confident that democracy and the Ohio constitution will ultimately prevail.”
A slew of changes to the Department of Education were scheduled to take effect in early October, but state school board members – and later, parents on the board and a local school board – sued to halt the transition to a Department of Education and Workforce. As part of the changes included in the state budget, the board’s most significant powers, including rulemaking and curriculum evaluation, would return to the purview of the governor’s office.
Plaintiffs in the case argued the transfer of power not only violates a constitutional mandate to have a functioning board of education, but its passage also violated the three-reading and single-subject rules for legislation. The changes were originally introduced as a standalone bill, Senate Bill 1, but the bill stalled in the legislature and was incorporated into the budget in late June.
In her ruling, Magistrate Jennifer Hunt said that while it is “indisputable” that the board will lose most of its powers, she did not find the plaintiff’s claims to injury compelling enough to grant the preliminary injunction.
Plaintiffs argued that by transferring power from a partially elected board to an executive cabinet position, parents and families lose critical access to the people in power able to make policy decisions. But the state board will still exist, Hunt noted, and is directed by the new law to make policy recommendations to the new director of the Department of Education and Workforce.
Plaintiffs also claimed that while the state board is a public body beholden to public meeting requirements, the director will be able to unilaterally make decisions without public input. Hunt determined that provisions in the new law, including a stakeholder outreach process requirement and mandatory public presentation of proposed rules, protect the public’s ability to participate.
Hunt was also sympathetic to the state’s claim that a preliminary injunction would cause “unrest and chaos” for the K-12 education system. After the temporary restraining order was extended, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the establishment of the Department of Education and Workforce but not the school board transfer of power, arguing that the Department of Education would cease to exist regardless of the block.
In testimony, Jessica Voltolini, chief of staff of the Department of Education, said that the state had worked for months to smoothly transition to the new education department, and to block the change would cause irreparable harm.
Within hours of the judge’s final ruling, DeWine appointed Voltolini to serve as the interim director of the Department of Education and Workforce. She will assume the role on Monday.
“I am thrilled that the restraining order has been dissolved and we can focus on the important work of moving forward to help our kids be better prepared for life after high school, whether choosing additional training, beginning a career, or heading to college,” DeWine said in a news release.
While the transfer of power and other changes will occur when the restraining order ends, plaintiffs’ lawsuit against the state will proceed. The state has asked the court to dismiss the case for lack of standing. Plaintiffs have 14 days to object to the denial of the preliminary injunction.
Read Magistrate Hunt’s full order below.