Ohio lawmakers OK revamp of eligibility for school vouchers
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A proposal to revamp who can qualify for Ohio’s biggest school voucher program cleared the Republican-led House on Thursday despite Democrats’ dissent and headed to GOP Gov. Mike DeWine for consideration.
The program known as EdChoice funds private school tuition for students from poorly performing public schools. That eligibility list was slated to more than double to over 1,200 schools under current criteria, including some in wealthier areas, which led to debates about funding and fairness.
Instead, the list would shrink to about 470 schools in just 87 of Ohio’s 600-plus districts under the overhauled criteria, according to an analysis by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission. Students would be eligible for EdChoice funding if their public schools rank in the bottom fifth on a performance index and meet certain metrics that reflect poverty levels in their districts.
That means dozens of schools would be newly added to the list, and dozens more would be removed.
The legislation also would expand eligibility for income-based EdChoice scholarships, allowing initial eligibility for families making up to 250% of federal poverty guidelines.
“It’s not perfect. I will admit that,” Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, said as he urged House colleagues to support the changes and acknowledged more work is still needed to adjust how Ohio funds schools and evaluates their performance. “But ladies and gentlemen, we have got to make decision today whether we want 1,227 ... school buildings on this list for next year, or we want 469.”
A statement from Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, said lawmakers listened to input from families and educators to produce “the right solution that both supports our public schools and protects educational choice for Ohio’s families.”
Rep. Phil Robinson, D-Solon, spoke against the measure, calling it “an unfunded mandate because it doesn’t offset the increases that will happen if more people were to request vouchers.”
The analysis by the Legislative Service Commission noted the number of scholarship awards would be limited by the how much funding the state appropriates for the program.
Sen. Teresa Fedor, of Toledo, the top Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, objected in a statement that the measure “does not reflect what public school advocates expressed” in weeks of testimony on the issue. She also noted that lawmakers stripped language that would have dissolved the state-appointed academic distress commissions that the state has used to intervene in several repeatedly poor-performing districts.