COLUMBUS, Ohio — Schools superintendents from across Ohio came to Columbus on Tuesday with one goal: Convince their senators to ignore a bill they passed to fix school vouchers in favor of a House plan to remake the EdChoice system.
“In the Senate plan, Northern Local Schools would immediately lose over $400,000 local dollars … ,” Tom Perkins, superintendent of the Perry County district, said at a Tuesday news conference.
“Our taxpayers did not pass levies in order to fund private schools. Taking their dollars to support a private institution without their consent is nothing short of stealing,” Perkins said.
And, he wasn’t the only superintendent making that claim.
Northwest Local School District Superintendent Todd Bowling said his Hamilton County schools would lose about $1 million annually under the Senate’s plan.
The EdChoice Scholarship program awards vouchers to students who are slated to attend public schools that get failing marks on Ohio’s school report cards. The vouchers cost about $4,600 annually for K-8 students and $6,000 for high school.
The state cuts the checks, but it comes out of the state money allocated to local schools and therein lies the problem for educators like Bowling. The state funding formula gives Bowling’s schools $2,400 per student, so they lose funding for 2.5 students every time a high school kid takes a voucher.
Perkins said, “The result would be that my district would have to run a levy to offset the reduction in funding in order to maintain the current service provided to our 2,400 remaining students.”
And the kicker for those superintendents is that they say their schools aren’t failing.
“Only 18 months ago, 5 percent of the districts in the state were impacted by EdChoice. Today, more than 70 percent are impacted, and that number is expected to grow,” Shaker Heights City Schools Superintendent David Glasner said. “There is bipartisan acknowledgment here that something is very wrong.”
What’s wrong, according to almost all of Ohio’s lawmakers and public educators, is the school report cards. They were supposed to identify failing buildings, so students attending them could apply for vouchers.
But, as House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, likes to say, private school lobbyists have pushed to make the grading harder in order to capture more kids.
If lawmakers do nothing, one in three Ohio schools will be eligible for vouchers for the 2020-2021 school year when the online application portal opens April 1.
The Senate’s solution was to cut and freeze the list of school buildings eligible for performance-based vouchers while lawmakers work on a long-term solution. But the House voted that down and then voted to stop tying vouchers to school performance and instead create one voucher system based on family income of up to 250% of the federal poverty level, about $65,000 for a family of four.
Both bills are likely headed to conference committees where lawmakers from both the House and Senate will try to workout a deal. The first meeting on the Senate’s plan is scheduled for Tuesday evening.
They have until April 1 to reach a decision.