Q: What is a public school?
A: Public schools are the “traditional,” publicly funded primary and secondary schools that include city, exempted village, local and joint vocational school districts. Public schools are operated under the direction of boards of education, which usually consist of 5 members elected from within the district. While Ohio’s community schools (“charter schools”) are also public schools, this article focuses on traditional public schools.
Q: How are public schools funded?
A: Ohio’s public schools receive federal, state and local funding. Federal funds are provided primarily through incentive-based programs such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NLCB) and the Race to the Top (RttT). Federal funds are also provided through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for special education services.
State funding comes primarily from Ohio Department of Education per-pupil foundation payments, which are adjusted to some degree based on district size and need.
Local funds come primarily from taxes paid by real property owners in the school district. Local funding can vary widely among districts, depending on a district’s overall real estate values. Largely because of this variance in real estate values and taxes collected, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled in 1997 that Ohio’s school funding was unconstitutional. The Court’s decision has resulted in some school funding equalization, but funding inequity remains a challenge.
Q: Must public school teachers be licensed?
A: Yes. Public school teachers must comply with all Ohio Department of Education certification and licensing requirements. At a minimum, a public school teacher must earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, complete a teacher preparation program (including field experience and student teaching), pass a licensure examination and possess good moral character.
Q: Can a public school choose the students it will and will not serve?
A: No. Ohio law requires all children between the ages of six and 18 to attend either a private or a public school, and public schools must admit any child of school age residing within its district. Public schools may adopt an open enrollment policy (tuition-free attendance) for students residing in adjacent or non-adjacent district, but may not exclude students residing in the district.
A public school may remove (suspend or expel) a resident student for violations of the student code of conduct. Ohio laws also require students to be removed from school in certain serious situations (e.g., involving weapons or threats).
Q: Do students ever have to pay tuition to attend a public school?
A: Occasionally. The general rule is that students may only attend school tuition-free in the district where their parents reside. This applies to natural or adoptive parents and to the residential parent if the parents are not married. First, schools may allow students outside of their district to pay tuition to enroll, and students may opt to do so. Second, if neither parent resides in the district where the student resides, the district where the student resides may charge tuition. In many cases, however, the cost of tuition must be “charged back” to the school district where the parent(s) reside, so that the student is not responsible for the cost. There are several exceptions to this general tuition rule, including exceptions for children in foster homes, families buying or building a home in the district, children of school employees and special education students.
Q: How are public school students tested?
A: Public school students must take all state-required tests, including diagnostic assessments, proficiency tests, the Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) and the Ohio Graduation Tests (OGT). In 2012, Ohio adopted the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires districts to diagnose reading deficiencies for students in grades K-3, to implement reading improvement and monitoring plans, and to provide intensive reading interventions. Assessments and proficiency testing for special education students may be exempted or modified, depending on the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Q: Is transportation provided to public schools?
A: Transportation must be provided for students in grades K-8 who live more than two miles from school. Transportation may be provided for students living less than two miles from school or for students attending high school, but neither is mandatory. The student’s public school district also must provide transportation to any private school, as long as the student lives more than two miles from the private school and the private school is less than 30 minutes away from the public school that the student would have attended. Public schools must provide such transportation for private school students in grades K-8 only, unless the public school already provides transportation for its own high school students, in which case it must provide the same for students attending private schools.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by attorney Mark A. Weiker, a member of the Columbus firm, Means, Bichimer, Burkholder & Baker Co., LPA, and of the OSBA Education Law Committee.