The Institute for Justice (IJ) moved to intervene on behalf of five Ohio families to defend Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program and Educational Choice Expansion Program from a legal attack filed Tuesday by a group of public school districts. The families fighting to defend the two programs span the state and have unique stories with one common thread: they want the best possible education for their children. By formally intervening in the lawsuit, the parents will ensure that the tens of thousands of Ohio families benefitting from the programs are represented as the lawsuit proceeds through the courts.
“Every family should be able to guide the education of their children, regardless of their income or ZIP code,” said IJ Attorney Keith Neely. “For years, Ohio families have benefitted from the opportunity to give their children different educational options. This lawsuit would rip that away.”
Christopher and Chelsea Boggs are among the parents using the Ohio Educational Choice Scholarship Program (“Traditional Program”) for their three children. It was enacted in 2005 by the Ohio Legislature and 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 33,000 participating students at 390 schools.
The Boggs initially thought they would send their kids to the local public schools, but, after doing research on the available options, decided on Tree of Life Christian Schools in Columbus. They are pleased with the schools’ strong academics; without the Traditional Program, they would likely be forced to send their children to their assigned public schools, which Ohio designates as low-performing.
“They work very hard to keep academic rigor at a high standard,” Chris Boggs said. “The only way we can afford to do this is because of the EdChoice program.”
Brian Ellis, another parent-intervenor using the Traditional Program, said that, “The EdChoice program not only promotes quality scholastics for my children, it provides a safe learning environment.”
In the lawsuit challenging the programs, the school districts claim that the Ohio Constitution calls for a single system of common schools. According to the school districts, providing any alternative private educational choice program—even one that better serves parents and families—violates the Ohio Constitution. But Ohio’s school districts are predictably putting schools above the parents and families they serve, and nothing in the Ohio Constitution requires the state to provide only a single system of public education.
“Tens of thousands of Ohio families rely on this vital and constitutional program so that their children can get a good education,” said IJ Attorney David Hodges. “We look forward to fighting this cynical lawsuit in court.”
Two of the families seeking intervention are using the Educational Choice Expansion Program (“Expansion Program”). This program, enacted in 2013, 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 17,000 participating students throughout the state.
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.
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.