Ohio House OKs Statewide Voucher Plan

Program would provide vouchers to children in underperforming school districts

Building on the success of the 10-year-old Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, the Ohio House of Representatives on April 12 approved legislation to create a new statewide scholarship program.

The expanded school choice program, known as the Educational Choice Scholarship Program, was on its way to the state Senate for approval as this issue of School Reform News went to press. It would allow as many as 18,000 children in 30 school districts the state deems to be on “academic watch” or “academic emergency” to receive scholarships to attend the school of their parents’ choosing.

Under the new rules, the state would provide $4,000 to private elementary schools for each voucher participant, $4,500 to middle schools, and $5,000 to high schools. The scholarship amount will increase annually with the Consumer Price Index. Currently, students in 34 “academic watch” school districts and several charter schools across the state qualify for the program.

In addition, the Cleveland scholarship program would be expanded to provide vouchers for high school juniors and seniors, and its funding would increase to $20.5 million by 2007. Approximately 5,000 Cleveland students received vouchers to attend 45 private schools in the 2003-04 academic year. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the program–one of the first of its kind in the nation–constitutional in 2002.

Paving the Way

Clint Bolick, president and general counsel of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, which lobbies for school choice programs nationwide, praised Ohio State Rep. Dixie Allen (D-Dayton) for proposing the program-expansion bill.

“The success of the Cleveland school choice program in opening doors of opportunity to disadvantaged schoolchildren has provided inspiration for a major expansion of school choice in Ohio,” he said in a statement released April 13.

The House voucher proposal dramatically increases Gov. Bob Taft—s (R) proposal to increase funding for the state—s voucher program by $9 million and offer vouchers to approximately 2,600 children. To qualify for Taft—s proposed program, children from kindergarten through eighth grade would have to attend a school that failed to meet state test standards in reading and math for three years. Under Taft—s plan, students at 70 Ohio elementary and middle schools would be eligible for scholarships based on state test scores.

The House version also differs from Taft—s plan in terms of the financial impact on public schools. Taft—s voucher proposal would have subsidized tuition out of a new $9 million state account, not out of local school district funds. The House version calls for money to be deducted from local district coffers.

In High Demand

Rep. Dixie Allen of Dayton, the only Democrat to vote for the budget with the voucher proposal, told the Beacon Journal on April 18 that there is a need for more parental choice in Dayton.

Allen said, “there is a privately funded voucher program in Dayton now. Last year, 600 children received vouchers, and there was a waiting list of more than 1,100.”

The Senate was scheduled to weigh in on the voucher proposal before May 31. A balanced budget was to be presented to Taft for signing by June 30.

Lisa Snell is director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation. She formerly taught speech courses at California State University, Fullerton.