LIMA — For some regional public school superintendents, an upcoming change to the state’s school voucher program has created “yet another state-funded yet unequal education system.”
Allen County Educational Service Center Superintendent Craig Kupferberg laid out the issue during a Thursday morning press conference where over 30 regional superintendents, school board members and school treasurers highlighted their concerns over changes affecting Ohio’s EdChoice program that expands student eligibility for state-funded vouchers.
School officials are reacting primarily to state rules that define what qualifies a school as “underperforming” and subsequently, what qualifies students for a voucher. As criteria has shifted due to changes in how schools are now graded, the latest underperforming list ballooned in size with twice the number of school buildings — some of them wealthier suburban schools — ending up classified as underperforming.
Bluffton Superintendent Greg Denecker pointed out that while Bluffton schools did not have a school on the state’s list, the expansion exemplifies how the state has sapped dollars from the public school system no matter how well a school may be teaching its students.
He named two high-performing school districts — Brecksville Broadview Heights and Indian Hill Exempted Village — as examples. Both are ranked within the top 10 public school districts in the state by Ohio’s report card system, but they also have school buildings that sit on the state’s underperforming list.
Shawnee Superintendent Jim Kanable offered a number of potential solutions to the expansion that revolve primarily around switches in the state’s funding system and changing the qualifying criteria for underperforming schools.
“Moving forward we do want to be part of the solution. And that is the reason why we are standing up today and making it known that this program overall is inappropriate,” Kanable said.
State Sen. Matt Huffman agreed with a number of Kanable’s suggested solutions, such as the need to relax the criteria currently placing some school building’s on the state’s list. For example, Huffman said schools with high overall performance — those receiving overall A’s and B’s and sometimes C’s — probably should be scrubbed from the state’s list even if sub-categories get a lower individual grade.
The end result would see 500 to 600 schools on the state list instead of the roughly current 1,300 slated to jump on the list for the 2020-2021 school year, Huffman said.
Huffman also recommended that the state pay for 100% of voucher costs associated with middle-income students whose voucher eligibility may shift as the program is reconfigured.
But that doesn’t mean the program is going away, though. While the state utilizes multiple voucher programs for private students, the EdChoice program is consistently targeted by public school district’s wishing to change and/or nix the policy, Huffman said. Overall public support for school choice, however, remains strong enough to keep the larger program on the books.
Allen County’s Thursday press conference was just one among five or six similar meetings held across Ohio by public school officials to highlight what many deem an unfair system funneling state funds to private schools. Educators have pointed out that the current system doesn’t judge private and public schools on the same metrics and that private schools aren’t required to educate low-performing students.
In some school districts, state dollars allocated for vouchers can also sometimes cost more than what the state delivers as a cost-per-person allocation.
Proponents of EdChoice contest school officials’ claims about the program’s current policy. Citizens for Community Values — an Ohio-based Focus on the Family affiliate — for example, released a press release an hour before Thursday’s press conference arguing for the program expansion and making the claim that public schools are trying to hamper “access to private and Christian education.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.