Opinion column: Why eliminate EdChoice Scholarship program?

Last week the Ohio Senate rejected the proposal aimed to eliminate the EdChoice Scholarship program. Since the inception of the EdChoice program in 2005, the program has helped lift thousands of students out of failing schools and put them on the path to a brighter future. Starting relatively small with approximately 2,500 students in the 2006-2007, school year the program has now grown to help 29,000 students as of 2020. It’s a simple common-sense approach to addressing one of the most important issues facing Ohio’s schools, children and their families. Luckily the Senate stood with Ohio families on this very important issue.

So why now — after fifteen years of success — do some legislators want to eliminate the program?

Politics. Last year, the Ohio Department of Education released a widely expanded list of designated EdChoice public schools. Students at these underperforming schools are eligible for an Ohio EdChoice Scholarship. EdChoice designated schools in Crawford County include the following public schools: Bucyrus Elementary, Hannah Crawford Elementary (preK-2), Galion Intermediate Elementary, and Wynford Elementary. The dramatic increase in eligibility created a major political push back from the public schools. The Senate rejected plan had hoped to eliminate EdChoice scholarships with the Ohio Speaker of the House, Larry Householder proclaiming, “performance-based vouchers are over with.”

A school’s performance should most definitely be measured, but a look into metrics used was probably necessary before shaming 1,200 public schools. Students attending designated Edchoice or “underperforming” schools were eligible for a scholarship for use at a private school. The General Assembly will continue discussions and hopefully provide Ohio families with an accurate list of underperforming schools. An inaccurate list is a disservice to the schools performing well who are listed and to the children who are attending schools that are truly failing. Unfortunately, we have families in Ohio with students at “underperforming” schools that have planned on transferring to a private school, on a scholarship, finding out they may be unable.

Ohio families are stuck waiting.

Unable to reach an agreement on how to limit EdChoice scholarships by the Feb 1st application window, the House and Senate have passed a bill delaying the application window for 60 days… The current submitted House plan has future vouchers based on family income. The submitted House bill had the income slightly higher for EdChoice Expansion; however, it significantly limited the total number of school choice scholarships in the future. Policymakers should introduce a progressive sliding scale when awarding scholarships to families at different income levels. A sliding scale would allow all Ohio families the freedom to choose the education that best fits a child’s needs. Families wait as legislation that impacts hundreds of Ohio’s public and private schools is negotiated.

Now there is the battle.

Advocates of vouchers are suing the state, asking the Supreme Court to toss out the House-Senate plan. School choice supporters are hoping to throw-out the House-Senate plan and immediately begin accepting, processing, and awarding EdChoice Scholarships, as was already agreed on.

Parents are the primary educators of their children and, therefore, parental choice is a fundamental right. Parents should be provided and supported in educational options. A quality education should be available to everyone and not only to those who can afford to pay hefty school property taxes or private school tuition. There is clearly a demand for educational choice in Ohio with parents lining up to take advantage of EdChoice scholarships.

While legislature debates which pot the money comes from, it must not be overlooked that there is a cry for social justice from families in regards to education. We support legislation that supports a parents’ right to choose an education that fits their children’s needs, and the state’s assistance with funding that educational choice.

What can be done to stop the elimination of such an important and successful program?

Fortunately, the State Senate is still working on a new bill and the governor will need to sign it into law. Please contact State Sen. Dave Burke and Gov. Mike DeWine to let them know you stand up for Ohio’s children and support school choice in Ohio.

Gov. Dewine’s Office: 614-644-4357 https://governor.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/governor/contact

Sen. Dave Burke’s Office: 614-466-8049 https://www.ohiosenate.gov/senators/burke/contact