Friday, September 07, 2001
Written opinions tell how the court thinks
The case before the Ohio Supreme Court was DeRolph vs. State of Ohio. (Nathan DeRolph was a student in Perry County, where the case originated in 1991.)
This is the third time the court has debated the case, which is why it is known as DeRolph III.
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer wrote the majority opinion on behalf of Justices Andy Douglas, Paul Pfeifer and Evelyn Lundberg Stratton. Justices Douglas and Pfeifer wrote separate, concurring opinions.
Justices Alice Robie Resnick, Francis E. Sweeney and Debra Cook dissented. Justice Cook wrote she would have dismissed the case but dissented because the majority went too far in its remedy.
Chief Justice Moyer: None of us is completely comfortable with the decision we announce in this opinion. But we have responded to a duty that is intrinsic to our position as justices on the highest court in the state.
A climate of legal, financial and political uncertainty concerning Ohio's school-funding system has prevailed at least since this court accepted jurisdiction of the case. We have concluded that no one is served by continued uncertainty and fractious debate. In that spirit, we have created the consensus that should terminate the role of the court in the dispute.
Plaintiffs (the school coalition) also argue that future funding for school facilities remains uncertain. We acknowledge that there is no legislation currently in place that guarantees funding for the programs outlined beyond the current biennium. However, this concern is inherent in a democracy where public policy is never stagnant, and in a state that operates on a biennial budget.
We have thoroughly reviewed the plan now in place and are convinced that the defendants (state) are committed to improving primary and secondary education.
Justice Douglas: The litigation has not been about which branch of government is stronger, which branch would blink first, or which branch should be the dominant force. It is about the proper education of Ohio's 1,800,000 public school children and those generations of children who will follow.
With the basic plan and the additional provisions spelled out in the majority opinion and under the prodding and capable leadership of the Governor, the General Assembly, the Ohio Coalition of Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, and this court have gone a long way toward rectifying school funding inadequacies. Is the solution perfect? No. Is the solution adequate? I hope so. The constitutional mandate is one of adequacy not equality.
Justice Pfeifer: The General Assembly has reached for and achieved a constitutional system of common schools. There is room to reach higher.
Justice Stratton: Had I continued to dissent, the gridlock in this case would have continued to the detriment of all the parties, including most importantly Ohio's school children.
Justice Resnick writ ing in dissent:
In its Machiavellian maneuver to halt this litigation, the majority gives its seal of approval to a system of public education that, even with the judicially legislated adjustment of the majority, falls well short of the system required by the Ohio Constitution.
Now, a majority of this court has determined that, for the sake of expediency, harmony, and consensus, it is acceptable for this court to sit as a superlegislature and enact its own version of a constitutionally acceptable school-funding plan.
Justice Sweeney: This represents quite a departure in philosophy from our past opinions, in which we adamantly stated that we would not instruct the General Assembly on how to remedy the system
Justice Cook: By ordering particular legislative action based on its own concept of what is necessary to guarantee educa tional quality the majority has made an initial policy determination that the judiciary is ill-equipped to make. ...
The decisions about how to define educational quality, and the related question of how we pay for the pursuit of that ideal, are better left to the legislature which, unlike the judiciary, is a branch of government well-suited to make such vitally important policy choices.
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