Public school officials oppose expansion of state voucher program

| February 14, 2020

Public school officials and advocates in Ohio are opposing the expansion of a state voucher program that would require local public tax dollars to pay for students to attend private schools.

The Ohio EdChoice Scholarship Program provides vouchers for eligible students in grades K-12 whose school buildings are designated as underperforming, as designated by the Ohio Department of Education. For the current school year, 517 school buildings are eligible for vouchers from schools across the state; however, after a change in law that provides a liberal definition of “failing schools,” the program is set to grow by approximately 400 percent statewide next school year, which would designate nearly 70 percent of all Ohio public schools as EdChoice eligible. If the expansion is not amended, 1,227 schools would be on the list for the voucher program next school year.

Public school boards of education across the state are passing resolutions to oppose the expansion, urging state legislators to amend the program. In Ohio, public schools lost $113.5 million to EdChoice Scholarships in the 2018-2019 school year. That amount grew by $35 million to $148.2 million this school year. It is difficult to estimate the increase for the 2020-2021 school year, but the increase in eligible school buildings will funnel several hundred million dollars from public education to private and parochial schools.

EdChoice Scholarships total $4,650 for students in grades K-8 and $6,000 for high school students. Public school districts would have to use local tax dollars to pay the difference between their per student foundation payments from the state and the cost of each voucher.

The EdChoice Voucher program designates “eligible” schools based on the Ohio Department of Education’s report cards, which some school officials believe are not good measures for public policy decisions.

Ridgewood Local Schools Superintendent Mike Masloski has a personal example of the unfairness of this initiative. “Our Ridgewood Elementary School was just named a high progress school by the Ohio Department of Education, but at the same time, this same elementary is listed as ‘underperforming’ for the purpose of EdChoice Vouchers,” he said. “The current system is outrageous and demonstrates exactly why the EdChoice Voucher program is irrational.”

Public school districts around Ohio are asking community residents to contact their state legislators and encourage them to change the way the EdChoice program is funded and how the program determines schools that are not meeting performance criteria. Legislators have delayed the beginning of the voucher application period from Feb. 1 to Apr. 1, 2020, giving them time to resolve many outstanding issues with Ohio’s EdChoice program.

The House last week unveiled its plan to address the EdChoice Voucher program in Senate Bill (SB) 89, which passed the House by a vote of 88-7. The bill includes a phasing out of EdChoice vouchers based on school performance; however, it increases the eligibility for income-based vouchers from 200 percent of poverty level to 250 percent of poverty level, or $65,500 for a family of four. Income-based vouchers are funded directly by the state and do not include local funding. SB 89 is seen as a “step forward” in addressing a poorly designed voucher program.

However, it is incumbent upon legislators to keep the income eligibility level at its current 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($52,400 for a family of four) and provide funding for districts which have lost revenue due to the exponential growth of vouchers.

Category: Education

About the Author ()

Article contributed to The Beacon.

Comments are closed.