COLUMBUS — Parents and school officials are asking state lawmakers to address a school voucher program so they can have clarity as they begin planning for the 2020-21 school year.
Earlier this month, the state House signed off on its version of Senate Bill 89 to create the Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship as a replacement for the EdChoice voucher program. The Senate subsequently rejected the House’s version of the legislation.
Under the House’s version of SB 89, the state would fund Buckeye Opportunity Scholarships for first-time voucher recipients based on income. The scholarships start with the upcoming school year, and the number depends on how much lawmakers decide to allocate.
“Performance-based EdChoice vouchers drain resources from the budgets of local school districts,” Benjamin Alexander, a freshman English teacher in Columbus City Schools, said in prepared testimony during a conference committee on House Bill 9.
“If the state continues to hand out these vouchers, then more and more of the money that is so valuably needed to fix my school and so many schools like mine will start to disappear,” Alexander added. “This puts undue pressure on the taxpayers to pass school levies to fund schools.”
Public school employees often are critical of voucher programs. But school choice advocates say they give parents options if their local public school is underperforming or is not a good fit for their child. Support for school choice options such as voucher programs has been growing nationwide.
In late January, state lawmakers agreed to delay the start of the enrollment period for EdChoice from Feb. 1 to April 1. Gov. Mike DeWine subsequently signed the legislation containing the change, Senate Bill 120.
“In summary the EdChoice voucher is flawed,” Jeff Fouke, treasurer of Washington Local Schools in Lucas County, said in prepared testimony.
“It allows local tax dollars, our public dollars, to go to a private school that is allowed to discriminate on the students it enrolls, and in most instances have lower test scores than our high school,” Fouke added. “Please do not take our local taxpayers’ money, they work too hard for their money.”
The EdChoice system places schools on a list of “failing schools” based on education-related criteria. Students from those schools are then eligible for a voucher to attend a private school.
Critics expressed concerns about the program after state officials announced the list of “underperforming” schools would swell from about 500 schools this year to more than 1,200 for the 2020-21 school year.
“Further, taking community tax dollars to fund tuition at a private school exacerbates the very problem we are trying to solve,” said Heather Weingart, president of the Board of Education for Shaker Heights City Schools. “It’s a tactic that steals money from our public schools that they so desperately need. How does it make sense to deem that a school is failing and then take the most basic resource needed to improve?
“And, in many cases, those dollars are going to students who never even intended to use our local schools,” Weingart added. “In addition, private and parochial schools are not subject to the same state evaluation to measure student achievement, enrollment and admissions; therefore a community has no way to evaluate how effectively they are using
Todd DeFeo is a contributor The Center Square