Both the Ohio House and Senate approved a 60-day delay last week on the cusp of the scheduled opening for applications for the controversial Educational Choice Scholarship program.
By an 86-5 vote, House members on Thursday approved their amended version of Senate Bill 120 that changes the starting date from Feb. 1 to April 1. On Friday, the Senate took the same action.
The House’s amended version also approves $10 million in state funds to assist the most recently eligible voucher recipients. Placing the burden of funding the school vouchers on the state would likely mean limiting the amount available in any given year.
House members had hoped to delay the application opening in an effort to extend time for changes to the bill. One proposed change would reduce the number of eligible schools from over 1,200 to 425. Another change could limit the number of eligible students in D-rated schools.
The Educational Choice Scholarship Program, known as EdChoice, has listed hundreds of schools the Ohio Department of Education deems poor performers due to D and F grades on their state report cards during the 2014-15, 2017-18, and 2018-19 academic years. The grades make the students at the schools eligible for vouchers that fund the cost of attending private and charter schools.
Wauseon Elementary School, Swanton High School and Elementary School, and Delta High School were included in the list of schools eligible to receive vouchers. The superintendents of those school districts decried the voucher program, saying it’s a misguided effort fueled by ODE’s faulty grading system.
Pike-Delta-York Superintendent Ted Haselman said he’s pleased with the vote to delay the voucher opening. He said a policy change could make Delta High School voucher-free.
“I am hopeful the voted delay in implementation will allow legislative members to dig into the policy and recognize the imperfections and make the needed changes,” he said.
Haselman said taking public tax dollars from public schools to fund the vouchers is wrong, since taxpayers voted to have the money provide for their schools.
“How can a policy divert money from where it was intended to go to a private business (school),” he said.
Troy Armstrong, Wauseon schools superintendent, also applauded the delay. “I believe the House and Senate need the additional time to find an acceptable solution to the current flawed legislation,” he said.
And Swanton Local Schools Superintendent Chris Lake also anticipates a policy change that will remove the district’s high school and elementary school from the list.
“I am glad that our legislators recognize that EdChoice is a flawed system that needs to be changed,” he said. “The fact that they are pushing the date back to April 1 to apply for vouchers signals that they recognize the need to take an in-depth look at this program. Hopefully, this extra time will lead to a better outcome for public education in Ohio.”
District 81 State Representative Jim Hoops said SB 120 had gone to conference committee after the House didn’t concur with some of its language. “As we talked to the Senate we felt we weren’t going to get anything accomplished by (Feb. 1),” he said.
Now that both legislative bodies have agreed to a delay, “this gives us some time to really work through some of the issues I feel we need to work through,” Hoops said. “It’s frustrating, because it’s affecting our students and families in both the public and private schools.”
He said despite the extension changes to the bill could be approved as soon as this week, adding, “I’m hoping we don’t need 60 days.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.