Elida school board member wants out of voucher lawsuit

ELIDA — An Elida school board member wants the district to withdraw from the coalition of public schools suing to end Ohio’s private school voucher system.

“School tax dollars should not be used to fund lawsuits against the state,” said David Peters, who attempted to introduce a resolution to withdraw Elida schools from the lawsuit during the board’s June meeting.

The Elida schools district has spent nearly $11,600 on the lawsuit since it joined the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding in September 2021, according to data provided by Superintendent Joel Mengerink.

That figure excludes membership dues for the 2023 fiscal year.

Should the board agree to continue participating in the lawsuit, which is set to go to trial in November, the district is expected to spend another $3,000 for the upcoming year excluding annual membership dues.

“We’re negating our own point,” Peters said during the June board meeting. “We’re giving more money away because we’re complaining we lost money.”

Peters told The Lima News on Monday he intends to renew discussion of the lawsuit when the board meets again on July 16, as his resolution did not get added to the agenda in time for a formal vote last month.

Board members were divided on the subject, with Peters and Jaired Birks expressing an interest in potentially removing Elida from the lawsuit.

“We’re being funded by people who don’t send their kids here,” Birks said during the June meeting, adding that the lawsuit “destroys a parent’s ability to choose unless they have money.”

Board President Jeffrey Point appeared skeptical to the idea, pointing to projections which show Ohio will spend nearly $1 billion on vouchers for the 2023-24 school year.

“There’s a lot of money going out to private education that taxpayers are funding,” Point said in June, adding: “Why should the taxpayers be committed to paying for their education when they can get the same education here at Elida or any other public school?”

The lawsuit argues Ohio’s voucher system is creating a separate system of schools, exacerbating racial segregation and forcing public schools to raise funds through property tax levies to make up for the loss of state funding.

Ohio Department of Education and Workforce data show 251 students residing in the Elida school district claimed an EdChoice voucher to attend private schools last school year, the first year all Ohio children became eligible for the scholarship regardless of income or performance of their home school district.

That accounts for nearly 400% increase from the 51 students who participated in the program when vouchers first became available to low- to moderate-income Elida families in 2018.