COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Education owes 12 Horizon Science Academy schools throughout the state thousands of dollars, after they were wrongfully disqualified from money as “community schools of quality,” the Ohio Supreme Court ruled.
The court rejected in a 5-2 opinion the Department of Education’s position that the charter schools’ operator had to be registered as an out-of-state corporation with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office to be considered “in good standing” according to the 2019 law that allows the additional funding.
“In good standing” was not defined in the provision in the two-year state budget that created the $30 million Quality Community School Support Program, the court said in its Wednesday decision. When read in context of the entire Quality Community School Support Program enacted by the legislature, the court’s majority stated that qualifying for the funds “speaks solely to the operator’s standing as a qualified and effective operator of community schools.”
The court directed the department to provide grants of up to $1,750 for each economically disadvantaged student and $1,000 for all other students attending the 12 Horizon schools across the state.
“Under the legislature’s grant formula, the 12 Horizon Science Academies were entitled to more than $7 million in Quality Schools Funding,” said Nick Dertouzos, an attorney for the schools. “The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in this case was the right one for the schools and their students.”
The Horizon Science academies of Lorain, Youngstown, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Springfield sued the state. Additional plaintiffs are Horizon Science Academy high schools in Cincinnati, Dayton and Cleveland; Horizon Science Academy Cleveland Middle School; Horizon Science Academy Elementary School in Columbus and Horizon Science Academy Primary in Columbus.
The court noted three other Horizon Science academies, with the same operator as the schools involved in the case, applied for money under a different section of the budget bill and received grants for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine and Melody J. Stewart joined the majority opinion. Justices Michael P. Donnelly and Jennifer Brunner dissented without written opinions.
The 2019 budget bill allowed additional funding if charter schools met certain eligibility standards to be considered “community schools of quality.” There are four ways a school can apply for the money, including one in which the schools’ operator has schools in other states that are in good standing, among other criteria.
The Horizon schools contract with Concept Schools NFP, an Illinois nonprofit that has operated community schools in Ohio for 15 years and operates schools in seven states. The Department of Education rejected the funding because Concept Schools is not registered with the Ohio Secretary of State, concluding it is not in good standing.
But the Ohio Supreme Court noted that the law didn’t require the school operator be a registered business.
“If the General Assembly had been concerned with a school operator’s corporate registration status as a prerequisite to QCSS grant funding, it would have imposed corporate registration requirements for schools applying under any of the criteria,” the court’s ruling said.