Many area families and schools are just beginning to understand the significant changes coming to Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship program next school year.
The new EdChoice expansion system will offer scholarships to students attending around 1,300 buildings in the state beginning in the 2020-2021 school year that are deemed to be under performing. That compares to around 250 current buildings.
Also, the EdChoice expansion program will provide a scholarship to any child in grades 9 through 12 living in an under-performing district, even if he or she already is attending a private school.
A scholarship may allow a student to attain a virtually free education at a private school by transferring state funds that had been earmarked for a public school.
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on whose chair you’re sitting in — that of a public school superintendent trying to make ends meet, or that of a parent seeking what they may believe to be a better education for their son or daughter.
Lima City Schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman simply sees it as a flawed system.
“I believe if they want to allow the dollars to flow to the private, the only thing we ask is that they are held to the same standards as we are,” Ackerman said. “Really, it’s not a fair system. If they want to use the money across the board for everyone, everyone needs to be held to the same standards — they should have to have the right licenses, follow all the requirements of ODE and be graded like we’re graded.”
Private school administrators believe the expansion will only provide greater opportunities and choices for qualifying students to receive a more tailored education.
“We believe parents are the primary educators of their children, therefore, parental choice in education is a fundamental right,” explained Lima Central Catholic principal Stephanie Williams. “True school choice includes options for public education, non-public education or homeschooling. We do not view the goal of the EdChoice program to hurt public schools, but rather to provide a faith-based option for parents who are the primary educators.”
Public school districts that now stand to lose students because of EdChoice expansion include Allen East, Delphos and Lima in Allen County; St. Marys and Wapakoneta in Auglaize County; Continental in Putnam County; Van Wert City in Van Wert County; Celina in Mercer County; and Kenton and Upper Scioto Valley in Hardin County.
In Allen County, the private schools that can serve as scholarship providers include LCC, St. Charles, St. Gerard, St. Rose, Golden Bridge and Temple Christian in Lima, and St. John’s elementary and high school in Delphos. Putnam County schools included are St. Anthony of Padua in Columbus Grove, St. Mary in Leipsic, and SS. Peter and Paul in Ottawa. Mercer and Van Wert counties only have one school each, while there are no private schools in Auglaize or Hardin counties that can accept the EdChoice scholarships, also known as vouchers.
“Because this has traditionally affected bigger cities and larger schools, it is fairly new to small schools and schools in our area,” Wapakoneta schools superintendent Aaron Rex pointed out.
Like Ackerman, he sees the change being dangerous to the financial stability of public schools.
“There are now close to 1,300 schools that are on the list for EdChoice,” Rex said. “Once a school is on the list, a student from that school can leave the district and use the funding to help pay or pay for all of their education at a private institution. This amounts to $4,650 dollars in K-8 and $6,000 in grades 9-12. That can amount to a hefty sum if a large group of students decide to take advantage of it.”
The increase in buildings added came from the change in state performance criteria.
In the 2019-2020 criteria listing, the Ohio Department of Education states a school qualifies as an EdChoice school if it received a performance index grade of D or F, an overall grade of D or F on both the 2013 and 2014 Ohio school report cards, or did not receive an overall grade of A or B on the 2018 report card.
In the 2020-2021 criteria, that changed to include receiving a performance index and overall grade of D or F on the 2014 grade card or if the school received an overall grade of D or F on the 2018 or 2019 report card.
“Originally Ohio schools had to get failing grades on at least two specific report card measures before being added to the voucher list. The new system adds a school for a single D or F — even if the rest of its grades were As and it had an overall passing grade,” states a release currently posted on the Lima City Schools web site.
Golden Bridge Academy director Karen Beard believes some students may not benefit as much in a public school setting.
“I think there’s definitely a place for some kids in the public schools and definitely a place for kids that need private schooling. Here we can just kind of hone in on those kids’ needs,” Beard said. “I think that’s what it’s about — it’s tailored for the kids and what they need. … The kids we have, they are in smaller classrooms of about 18 kids, so they get a lot of individualized attention.”
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.