COLUMBUS — After months of negotiation, revised legislation to overhaul Ohio’s EdChoice private-school voucher program passed the Ohio Senate on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 89, sponsored by state Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, still needs to clear a final House vote before heading to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk. It aims to head off an unintentional increase in the number of public schools where vouchers are available from about 500 to more than 1,200. The measure passed the Senate 23-8.
The reason is that EdChoice program eligibility has been determined based on school report card rankings, and an increasing number of schools have failed state performance reviews — including many in affluent areas.
Huffman, the soon-to-be Senate President who’s behind the new voucher scheme, issued a statement Wednesday praising his legislative colleagues for working out an agreement, as well as families, teachers and school administrators who testified.
“Senate Bill 89 reaffirms a parent’s right to choose the best educational environment for their children and provides relief to public schools that were unfairly being categorized as low-performing,” Huffman stated.
Under language agreed to by House and Senate negotiators, EdChoice eligibility would instead be extended to schools that meet two criteria. First, at least 20% of the school’s students must be eligible for Title 1, a federal program that offers funding for low-income students. Second, the school must be in the bottom 20% of Ohio’s school performance index, a ranking based on test scores, for the past two school years.
The changes would reduce the number of school buildings where students are eligible for EdChoice vouchers from 1,227 to 473. The number of school districts with at least one voucher-eligible building would fall from 426 to 87, according to a legislative analysis.
In addition, voucher eligibility would be extended to students from families making 200% of the federal poverty level ($52,400 per year) to 250% ($65,500 per year).
Students who reside in the Cleveland Municipal School District aren’t eligible for EdChoice vouchers, as the district has its own voucher program.
Lawmakers have been working since last winter on fixing the state’s voucher program, angering parents who passed on accepting scholarships for private or parochial schools because they expected to receive EdChoice funding. The program pays a maximum of $4,650 for a K-8 student and $6,000 for a student in grades 9-12.
Work on finding a fix was further complicated by the coronavirus crisis, which led lawmakers in late March to freeze the number of voucher-eligible buildings.
Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said he was “disappointed” by the Senate’s passage of the changes.
Schools that rate low on the state’s performance index are usually in areas of the state with high poverty rates, DiMauro said, so tying voucher eligibility to that index would mean that poorer school districts would lose more money than richer ones.
“We don’t think that’s fair,” DiMauro said. “We don’t think this is a good day for Ohio’s kids.”