Public Education Matters

On March 24, 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in the DeRolph v. State case that Ohio's school funding system was unconstitutional and the Ohio legislature must fix it. It has now been 26 years since that decision came down, meaning two entire 13 year education cycles of kids entering kindergarten through graduating high school have gone through Ohio's public schools without lawmakers making things right. Dan Heintz, a teacher in Chardon who serves on the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school board explains why ongoing voucher expansion schemes cannot coexist with a constitutional public school funding system in our state.

READ THE OP-ED | Click here to see Dan Heintz' piece in the Columbus Dispatch, "Teacher: Today marks 26th year of lawmakers being 'willfully negligent' of Ohio kids"

Featured Education Matters guest: 
  • Dan Heintz, Chardon Education Association member
    • Dan Heintz teaches at Chardon High School. He was elected to serve on the Cleveland Heights - University Heights Board of Education in November, 2017. Overcoming a slate of far right culture warriors, he was re-elected in 2021. In his spare time, he serves on the steering committee for the Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit.   
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About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May 2020, after a ten-year career as an Emmy Award winning television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
This episode was recorded on March 27, 2023.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:15
Thank you for joining us for this edition of Education Matters. I'm Katie Olmsted, and I'm part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association and the 120,000 public education professionals OEA represents across the state. At least some of those members remember March 24, 1997, pretty well. And every educator in Ohio has been impacted by what happened on that date. That was the day the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in the DeRolph v. State of Ohio case that Ohio school funding system was unconstitutional, that it failed to quote, "provide for a thorough and efficient system of common schools," as required by the Ohio Constitution, and that the state legislature had to fix it and put a constitutional school funding system in place. That was 26 years ago. And while the Fair School Funding Plan that was adopted in part in the state budget in 2021 did make some progress, we are still waiting for the constitutional school funding system our kids deserve today, and for years to come. OEA member Dan Heintz just wrote a very powerful op-ed for the Columbus Dispatch to mark the anniversary. He teaches at Chardon High School, and serves on the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School Board. And he's a member of the steering committee for the Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit which is fighting the unconstitutional expansion of school vouchers in our state. Dan Heintz joins us now to share his thoughts.

Katie Olmsted 1:59
Dan Heintz, thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to share your very valuable perspective with us. Looking at this op-ed, it was such an important piece for I think so many people to read. Why did you write it? And why are we marking 26 years? As you noted in your op-ed, that's a weird number.

Dan Heintz 2:18
Well, thank you for having me, Katie. You know, like everybody who's listening to these podcasts, public education means a great deal to me. I'm a product of Ohio's public education. My son graduated from our public high school in 2021. And it just seemed that we, in education, understand the importance of a 13 year period of time, because that is a generation of a K through 12 education. And so as DeRolph last year was commemorated, a lot of people talked about, you know, DeRolph as being a quarter century old, it sort of stuck a flag in my in my brain that next year, which is now upon us, is really the more important anniversary because it's two entire generations of Ohio students, my son being one of them, who attended school every day, and it was a school that was not constitutionally funded. That they were denied their constitutional birthright. And I just couldn't let that pass without mention.

Katie Olmsted 3:29
Do you remember when the original DeRolph decision came down? And did you ever think 26 years later, we would still be sitting here talking about waiting for the constitutional funding system to finally be put in place in Ohio?

Dan Heintz 3:44
So I do not remember DeRolph's coming down. I became active in the fight for justice around public education, period, and in particular funding, as I became more involved in my OEA local. I have always been a firm believer in collective bargaining. And as I went through the ranks of my local from building rep up to vice president, I just began to see more and more what the deficit in funding was doing to the opportunities that were available in the classroom. And the more you think about it, and the longer it goes, the more upset you get. And so that's how I engaged and that's really what led to my seeking a seat on my local Board of Education.

Katie Olmsted 4:35
And because you're on the local Board of Education for Cleveland Heights, University Heights, and because you're in the classroom at Chardon High School, you have the perspective of how our school funding system affects two entire school districts. What difference would it make if we actually took care of this problem once and for all? What do your students need?

Dan Heintz 4:56
Yeah, so what my students need - which is really all that matters at the end of the day - what my students need is all of the stuff. I'm teaching in a building that literally was, you know, was shut down for an entire day and it was much limited because we had a flood over winter break. We have windows where you can feel the wind. We do not have an auditorium. We are a public high school in the state of Ohio in 2023 without an auditorium. So, you know, these are the things that I think this is shameful, that students are attending high school without a large group room. But the impact of the lack of funding, ultimately, it doesn't matter what district you're in, it all comes down to the same three words: levees, levees, levees. And that's where the real damage is done. Because since the state is not fulfilling its obligation, its constitutional obligation, Article Six, section two, to provide for 'a thorough and efficient system of public schools' - Singular, by the way, which matters a lot when it comes to vouchers; a system of public schools -you know, and so we are constantly left coming back to the communities that we live in and hoping for the very best outcome. In Cleveland Heights-University Heights, our community has been incredibly generous. But we got to the point where we had to go on the on the ballot twice, because of what we were losing to vouchers. And we're knocking on doors and we're showing the community what we've done to stretch dollars and what we've done to reduce our budget, but we started hearing this little refrain about okay, I get it, I get what you're doing to stretch dollars, I get what you're doing to cut the budget, but what are you doing to protect my tax dollars? And that's why my district, Cleveland Heights-University Heights, joined with other school districts in the Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit, because it's a legitimate complaint. What are we doing to protect the tax dollars we're given? And for us, that turned into the voucher cert Ohio lawsuit.

Katie Olmsted 7:19
I want to get to the lawsuit in just one second, but I want to real quick talk about DeRolph again. The reason it was declared unconstitutional, it was neither adequate, nor was it equitable. It didn't - It was, for people who aren't familiar with what our process has been forever - It's lawmakers basically saying, 'I have this amount of money that I want to spend on schools, let's divvy it up in whatever way we feel like makes sense today.' And it's not equitable, equitable, because it depends so much, it is so overly reliant on local property taxes that we have created these have and have not districts. If you have a lot of local property wealth, you have the funding you need for your schools. If you don't have that, you don't have that. And so the state is not fulfilling its promise for a great education for every single child. And at the end of the day, that is what DeRolph was saying you must fix. Now, in 2021, there was a big step forward. The state legislature adopted in part, the Fair School Funding Plan, previously known as the Cupp-Patterson plan, which was supposed to take into account both what it costs to educate a child and a local community's ability to pay for it. And I remember, I - this was the victory moment that we had been working so hard for, but even then, you said, I don't know. It's too early to celebrate. And we're seeing that right now. What can you tell me about what happened with that, where things stand and why you saw the writing on the wall already before they even voted for it?

Dan Heintz 8:58
Right, yeah, that was a great, great lead up, Katie. Um, so with the Fair School Funding program, First, I think one of the really most important pieces of the Fair School Funding program that you touched upon, is that for the first time, the legislature put dollar amount on how much does it cost to educate a student in Ohio. And up until then, it had been this this weird alchemy. And so they put they finally pinned it down. And that's critically important. And yes, they implemented the Cupp-Patterson Fair School Funding. The problem is, is that that first year, they only they only funded a small fraction. And the second year of the current biennial budget, they funded some more. And if I saw something on the wall, here's what I saw, Katie: I saw looking back in my 20 years of being pretty intimately involved in public education, I started thinking, well, when was the last time I can remember two pro-public school biennial budgets in a row? And the answer is never. And to fully implement the Fair School Funding program, it wouldn't take two pro-public education biennial budgets, it would take three. And so I've just thought, there's no chance, especially when we consider that every two years, we turn over a third of the people who are actually representing us in the General Assembly. And so by that third biennial budget that would be required to fulfill the promise of the Fair School Funding program, really, two-thirds of the people who originally voted in supported it would be gone. And so the the those folks don't have any real skin in the game in terms of watching it achieve its its its promise.

Katie Olmsted 10:47
Now, I am ever the optimist, because I have no choice. I live in Ohio, and I have to remain hopeful. You know, lawmakers are considering Fair School Funding Plan again. It is vitally important that they update the figures in this to make sure that it is actually fully funded and equitably funded. Because we can't, we need to make sure we're looking at current costs of education and not just current levels of local wealth. The formula they're using, at least in these initial phases is, is skewed. And so we're getting back into that alchemy category you were talking about. There does seem to be a fair amount of support for passing some version of this. But at the same time, we're also hearing about some really, honestly horrendous bills that would at the same time, take all of the money we need for our public education and put them into voucher expansion schemes. What can you tell me about what's happening, what we need to be paying attention to, and why this is such a scary prospect for our kids?

Dan Heintz 11:57
Sure. And that was that was a great summary of this sort of split personality that the General Assembly seems to have. Currently, we are living in the, on the brink of the far right achievement of universal vouchers in Ohio. They've currently more or less agreed on about 80% of the students receiving vouchers with that's basically where we get to when we are at the 400% of the poverty level. So that's been agreed on. I don't think it's actually been signed into law yet, but there seems to be widespread agreement, enough agreement to get it passed. So you know, I mean, that in and of itself, is devastating, because it just it leaves, it leaves no real money for Ohio's public schools. And if the other 20% get it - which, if you're going to go to 80%, why not just why not just crash the train, and go ahead and go universal? - but the the, it's important to know that the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission says that full implementation of universal vouchers will cost Ohio taxpayers $1.13 billion every single year. And there's no way that you can serve both masters. There's just, the pie is not big enough. It would require them dipping into the rainy day fund, okay, which they didn't dip into the rainy day fund during COVID. So they're sure not going to dip into that to bail out Ohio's public schools. But $1.1 billion a year, just to put that in perspective, we have just gotten over the billion dollar threshold last year when it comes to vouchers. So all of the voucher work that has come before this has led up to just about what the annual ticket price will be moving forward, if implementation of universal vouchers goes through. And then I mean, we think we've had levee problems in the past, boy, we're going to be on the ballot constantly. And here's another thing that's really important to note to note about this in terms of individual districts impact. In Cleveland Heights-University Heights, we receive a little less than $2,000 in funding per student per year from the state as it is. Just under $2,000. A single K-8 voucher is $5,500. And one high school voucher 9-12 is $7,500. So it's not just that we are funding private schools, we're funding private school tuition, we're funding them at a large multiple of what we're funding Ohio's public schools. And these are private schools that we know can discriminate based on race, based on gender, based on sexual preference, based on religion, based on disability, and they're getting a large multiple per student in the shape of a voucher.

Katie Olmsted 15:07
And we also know that they're performing, on average much, poorer than the public schools they are taking dollars from.

Dan Heintz 15:15
There's a great deal of evidence now and growing evidence that that is the case. They just, the public schools are cheaper and better at educating Ohio's children. But public schools are populated with people who are not as much part of the donor class. And I think that that's really what we're seeing.

Katie Olmsted 15:33
And let's be real here, even with a voucher, private schools are still out of reach for the vast majority of Ohioans. This - even at that ridiculously high number compared to what's going to our public education from the state - it's not enough to really make a dent in that really high tuition. So this is just putting more money back into the pockets of the wealthy donors who are propping up this kind of haves-and-have-nots system and taking away from the 90% of kids who attend our public schools. And we're not standing for it. There is that lawsuit, the Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit that contends these voucher schemes are unconstitutional in what, five different ways?

Dan Heintz 16:13
Correct. There are five different ways that, claims that have been filed by the Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit, and all five of those have made it through the first round under Franklin County [Court of Common Pleas Judge] Jaiza Page's decision to dismiss from the other side. So all five claims have been validated, if you will, by Judge Page, and we are looking forward to our day in court, which will begin this coming summer.

Katie Olmsted 16:39
So talk to me about this lawsuit. More than 100 districts signed on initially, and it's grown from there. Where do things stand? And why is this so important?

Dan Heintz 16:50
We filed last January after working on the lawsuit sort of semi quietly for about two years. We're at about a third of Ohio's public school districts are supporting the lawsuit. And you know, the importance of the lawsuit is that it will solve vouchers. We have identified five different ways that vouchers violate Ohio's constitution. We're very fortunate actually, that our constitution's language is incredibly clear on this. And so, you know, people are, people say, Well, what about the change in the Ohio Supreme Court, which is where this will end up? We're thrilled with the change in Ohio Supreme Court, because what we want, what you need when the law is on your side, is you need a court that believes in the letter of the law. And the letter of the law is so absolutely and obviously on the side of Ohio taxpayers, Ohio students in Ohio's public schools. It is incredibly clear. And all we need is one. We need one of those five that have already cleared the initial hurdle to get down to the finish line, and vouchers are over. And the beauty of it is, is that unlike the DeRolph decision - the DeRolph decision, the remedy that they sought was to force the legislature to do their constitutional duty, but there's no downside for now 26 years, two generations of neglect - But in the Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit, what we're seeking is we are seeking the state supreme court to file an injunction to deny the ability of the state of Ohio to write voucher checks. And a permanent injunction would bring an end to vouchers in Ohio. And that's why the far right is as upset as they are. That's why a major funder to the far right cause has bought a building right across the street from the statehouse, and they are now giving legislators updates on on on vouchers and the Backpack Bill. Think about that. The private interests are now updating legislatures on the progress of legislation. That is bananas. And that has happened in Columbus.

Katie Olmsted 19:04
So while we're waiting for the state Supreme Court to hear the cases, what can the average Ohioan do to, as your constituents have asked, protect our public schools?

Dan Heintz 19:16
Two things that I think listeners to this podcast can do that's very important: One, find out if your local school district is participating in the lawsuit, and if they're not, call your board of education out, call your superintendent and treasurer are out and demand to know what are you doing to protect my tax dollars? You should be part of the Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit. It costs $2 per student, which is a fraction - I mean, in our case, it's it is one and a half vouchers - so it is a completely explainable expense. It's a justifiable expense. So folks should be should be contacting the local boards of education and demanding that they join the lawsuit. But on a larger field, if you're listening to this podcast, you are one of, you're so deeply engaged in public education, I want you all to consider running for your local Board of Education. In what other industry do nonprofessionals rule their their boards? The Bar Associations, there's no non-lawyers on the Bar Associations. There's no non MDS on the Medical Associations, and yet, we have bought into this idea the boards of education should not be populated by educators. So we have an election coming up this coming November, almost every Board of Education in the state of Ohio has seats up, and we, as educators, need to look around and say, who might be a good fit either on the district that I'm teaching in or in the district where I live in. And believe me, teachers are the best qualified people in the state to serve on boards of education. If you're listening to this podcast, you know, more than four out of five people who are currently sitting on your board of education, I promise you. And I'm not putting down the incredible people that I work with on my board. But experts are experts, and that's who listens to this podcast. That's who are members of the Ohio Education Association. They are educational practitioners and thus experts and they should be leading their profession. That's what we should be doing.

Katie Olmsted 21:30
And thanks to your expert breakdown of all of these issues, I think all of us know a lot more about the school funding system and what needs to be done today to fix it. Thank you so much, Dan Heintz.

Dan Heintz 21:43
Thank you.

Dan Heintz 21:47
If you'd like to read Dan's op-ed about the DeRolph anniversary and the ongoing problems with school funding in our state, you can find the link in the show notes for this episode. And while you're there, make sure you subscribe to Education Matters wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss an episode in the future. Until next time, stay well.

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