LIMA — The reasons remain the same as when vouchers first came to be in Ohio, but area school boards are again passing resolutions to officially oppose any expansion of vouchers.
The Bluffton school board approved on Monday a resolution created by the Ohio School Boards Association. The same resolutions will begin to pop up around the state, including on Bath, Elida and Shawnee board agendas tonight. Lima school board will do the same when it meets next week.
“We are sending that message once again, like we did last year with House Bill 136, that we do not believe it is right to have public dollars going to private schools,” Bluffton Superintendent Greg Denecker said.
House Bill 136 was state Rep. Matt Huffman’s voucher proposal. OSBA created a resolution last year that boards across the state approved. The house bill never came to be. School officials are cautiously hopeful the new resolutions will make an impact before Gov. John Kasich’s budget is approved in June.
“The more folks we have representing us in Columbus that feel a voucher system is a way to go regardless of how many people in their communities feel otherwise, I don’t know how much of an impact it will have,” Bath Superintendent Dale Lewellen said. “I hope it will because I believe it is something that needs to be preserved and that is the separation of public dollars staying with public schools.”
Kasich’s budget proposal would provide for private school tuition vouchers in an amount up to $4,250 to any entering kindergartner of a family with a household income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The program would include both kindergartners and first-graders the following year. The academic performance of the public school does not matter.
The governor also proposes offering existing EdChoice vouchers to students enrolled in schools that fail to make adequate progress on the Third Grade Guarantee for two consecutive years. Under the proposal, $4,250 would be deducted from districts per kindergarten through eighth-grade pupil, and $5,000 for high school.
Lima schools has 215 pupils attending private schools under the current voucher system. Superintendent Jill Ackerman said the newest proposal veers from the original intention of vouchers, to offer an option to families with no other alternative but to attend a failing school.
“The original intention of the program seems to have shifted to now just open the door and everybody can go,” she said.
Ackerman adds that public and private schools are not held to the same standards of accountability, and that it really isn’t parental choice. She said the district gets calls on a regular basis from private schools wanting to see a pupils’ record before deciding whether to accept the pupil or not.
The proposed voucher programs would alleviate what Ackerman calls the “gaming system” happening now.
“Where kids who have never set foot in our schools are suddenly enrolling here within this voucher window (to get a voucher next year),” she said. “It is disruptive for that child and for some of our classrooms that are full to capacity.”
Ackerman has seen about a dozen families do this, including a recent doctor who freely admitted he wanted to enroll his child in Lima schools in order to get a voucher next year.
The new voucher proposal, Lewellen said, is setting up a system for funding private schools. Families that would have typically gone to private schools, he said, will have the opportunity to get a voucher.
“If more and more are choosing private schools, it is creating a market so there will be more and more private schools crop up,” he said, adding that the public money will be following pupils to the private schools. “In my mind that is just crossing a line, you are simply funding private schools.”
Denecker points out that his school has been rated either excellent or excellent with distinction for the past several years. He questions why someone should be able to take public dollars from his or other high-achieving districts.
“Why would we lose kids to private schools when it looks like our districts are doing well academically with our students?” he asked, adding that with so many school boards passing the resolutions, he thinks it could hold some weight. “It is one more piece to let them know we don’t support it.”