None of Fulton County’s seven public school districts would be included in Ohio’s revamped version of the EdChoice voucher program, but critics of the vouchers still have plenty to say.
Passed as Senate Bill 89 on Nov. 18 by a vote of 23-8, the reworked program would limit the number of Ohio public school buildings eligible to provide private school vouchers to their students to 473 – the bottom 20% of the state’s school performance index. The bill must still pass the House before Governor Mike DeWine can decide on enaction.
The change is being voted on due to an unexpected increase to over 1,200 public schools eligible to distribute private school vouchers and the resulting uproar. The Educational Choice Scholarship Program, also known as EdChoice, determines eligibility through school report card rankings.
The program originally listed hundreds of schools the Ohio Department of Education deems poor performers on state report cards during the 2014-15, 2017-18, and 2018-19 academic years. The grades make the students at the public schools listed eligible for vouchers that fund the cost of attending private and charter schools through public school budgets.
Wauseon Elementary School, Swanton High School and Elementary School, and Delta High School were originally included on the unexpectedly large eligibility list. No Fulton County schools would be eligible if the reworked program is enacted.
Students in grades K-8 receive $4,650; high school students get $6,000. The cost of vouchers based on a school district’s report card performance index is taken from the district’s budget.
Senate Bill 89 language mandates that eligibility through EdChoice be based on 20% or more of a school’s students being eligible for Title 1, a federal funding program for disadvantaged students. The language also holds that over the past two years eligible schools must have ranked in the bottom 20% of the state’s school performance index – a system based on test scores.
Senate Bill 89 would also make students from families at 200%-250% of the federal poverty level able to request vouchers.
Attempts to curb the number of schools eligible for EdChoice were thrown off earlier this year by the coronavirus pandemic.
A joint statement issued by The Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA), the Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO), and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA) called the actions of the General Assembly to overhaul the EdChoice voucher program without debate or public input “deeply disappointing.”
The statement added: “This harmful plan will continue to siphon locally voted tax dollars away from students in public schools and send them to unaccountable private schools. This threatens districts’ abilities to serve and provide opportunities for their remaining students – students who have chosen to attend their public schools – and jeopardizes the quality of their educational experiences.”
According to Kevin Miller, BASA director of governmental relations, “The legislature failed to provide any opportunity for the public to voice its opposition, its support or otherwise in the (revamping) plan. It’s concerning and disappointing that the legislature would act on such a program without properly vetting the program.”
Miller said because school buildings eligible for EdChoice have to be in a district where at least 20 percent of students are eligible for Title 1, “automatically, it is a program that will focus on our urban, our poorest suburban, and our poorest rural school districts, so that becomes concerning.”
And Ohioans can’t overlook how the EdChoice revamp was unveiled and passed by the General Assembly in just a matter of hours, said Will Schwartz, OSBA director of legislative services. He said proceedings to pass the original EdChoice legislation were lengthy, involved, and included input.
“Neither any association or individual from across the state was given the opportunity to understand, digest or react to this plan,” Schwartz said of the revamp. “To see something come through the General Assembly in such a quick way – no input, no debate, no public notice – was profoundly disappointing.”
He added that continuation of the voucher program “will have a detrimental impact on school budgets around the state. It’s going to have an acute effect on many communities as they’re dealing with state budget reductions, declining local revenues from property tax collections, and increased costs as school districts tackle the pandemic.”
Troy Armstrong, superintendent of Wauseon schools and a BASA member, said he agrees with a portion of the organization’s joint letter with the OSBA and OASBO that begins: “This outcome will have a devastating impact on school budgets amid state revenue cuts, declining local revenues, and mounting pandemic costs.”
Archbold Area Schools Superintendent Jayson Selgo said he fully supports parental involvement in education but not the use of public funds for EdChoice vouchers.
“The process to determine eligibility is based on inaccurate data and unreliable metrics,” he said. “Additionally, I oppose EdChoice because the schools receiving public funds under the voucher system do not have the same accountability and standards as do the public schools.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.