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Institute for Justice Announces It Will Defend Ohio’s Educational Choice Programs

The Institute for Justice (IJ) has won over 20 school choice lawsuits, including three at the U.S. Supreme Court

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) announced its intent to intervene to defend Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program and Educational Choice Expansion Program from a legal attack announced this morning by Vouchers Hurt Ohio, an organization composed of a group of public school districts.

The lawsuit claims both programs, which empower families zoned to attend the state’s worst-performing schools and give low-income families the opportunity to select private school alternatives, violate the Ohio Constitution.

“Ohio’s scholarship programs are constitutional, and IJ is ready to defend them in court,” said IJ Attorney Keith Neely. “This lawsuit is a desperate attempt to force Ohio families to choose between keeping their kids in failing schools or going into debt to ensure their children have a decent education.” IJ intends to intervene on behalf of parents who already use or plan to use either the Traditional Program or Expansion Program to send their children to schools that work best for them.

The Ohio Educational Choice Scholarship Program (“Traditional Program”) was enacted in 2005 by the Ohio Legislature. It offers scholarships to K-12 students assigned to “low-performing” public schools. Under the program, children receive scholarships valued at $5,500 in the K-8 level and $7,500 in the high school level. For any child whose family income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, participating schools must accept the scholarship amount as payment in full for tuition. In the 2020–21 school year, the program had over 34,000 participating students at 390 schools.

In 2013, the Ohio legislature enacted the Educational Choice Expansion Program (“Expansion Program”). This program provides scholarships to K-12 students whose families meet certain income designations. Like the Traditional Program, participants in the Expansion Program receive scholarships valued at $5,500 in the K-8 level and $7,500 in the high school level. In the 2020–21 school year, the program had over 16,000 participating students throughout the state.

The school districts claim in their lawsuit that Ohio’s educational choice programs threaten Ohio’s ability to provide a public school system that is “uniformly well-funded and capable of delivering an equal opportunity for a full and complete high-quality education.” But students are not mere conduits for public school funding, and these programs were created specifically because students thrive more when their families have the option to send their children to better-performing schools.

In defending Ohio’s programs, IJ will enforce the promise made to Ohio parents when the programs were enacted: No child will be deprived of the option to attend a school that best suits their needs. If the lawsuit is successful, it threatens to return tens of thousands of Ohio students to schools that were failing them.

“Educational choice means putting children first,” said IJ Attorney David Hodges. “Ohio’s educational choice programs empower parents to make the best choice for their children, regardless of their ZIP code, income, or personal circumstances.”

Since its founding thirty years ago, IJ has successfully defended educational choice programs across the country, including three victories at the U.S. Supreme Court. One of those Supreme Court victories came out of Ohio: In 2002’s Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, IJ defended a voucher program for students in the Cleveland City School District. In 2020, IJ prevailed in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, in which the Supreme Court held that states may not exclude religious options from educational choice programs. IJ is also currently awaiting the outcome in Carson v. Makin, where the Supreme Court is considering whether states can refuse to fund families under a school choice program because of the religious nature of their chosen schools.

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