Ohio EdChoice amended bill heads to senate

Larry Limpf

A bill that replaces the EdChoice voucher program – which drew much criticism from local school officials - has passed in the Ohio House of Representatives.
With a few exceptions, the bill eliminates eligibility for first-time performance–based EdChoice scholarships beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Instead, the bill increases the base family income eligibility level for income-based EdChoice scholarships (renamed by the bill to Buckeye Opportunity Scholarships) from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 250 percent.
“The Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship freezes the school-performance funding model and implements voucher funding solely on a student’s family income,” said Rep. D.J. Swearingen, (R - Huron) in a press release. “The poverty thresholds for receiving educational vouchers are raised from 200 to 250 percent, and pro-rated scholarships will be given to families above 250 percent up to 300 percent of poverty. It also provides that the new voucher program will be directly funded by the state, rather than the current performance-based system which reduces state funding to local public schools.”
Currently, parents or guardians of students can apply for vouchers to attend private schools based on their income or if they reside within the boundaries of a school district that is considered a low-performing school as determined by the state’s report card system.
In the Lake school system, students attending the high school and middle school would be eligible to apply for vouchers, according to a list compiled by the Ohio Department of Education.

Supports Bill
Jim Witt, superintendent of Lake schools, said last week the district supports the new bill but he was cautious about its chances of passing in the senate.
Witt and Tim Krugh attended the Feb. 4 meeting of the Lake Township trustees who approved a resolution opposing the present voucher program. Richard Welling, a trustee, said the program could drain local tax dollars from Lake schools, putting a financial strain on the township.
Rep. Swearingen said the new bill establishes a committee to reform testing mandates and what he called the state’s “flawed school report card accountability system.”
“I hope that the long-term reform will provide common sense accountability standards for schools and will also support and incentivize schools in offering a wide variety of skills-based education, such as training in the trades and other professions that will lead to a successful career for students immediately following graduation from high school,” he said.
The bill also dissolves Academic Distress Commissions in place in the East Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown districts by June 30 and places a moratorium on the creation of new ADCs until Jan.1, 2024.

Bill praised
The Ohio Education Association, which represents 122,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals in public schools and colleges, praised the House vote.
“The Ohio House took an important step to transform the voucher program in a way that moves away from the blame game and toward meeting the needs of all students,” said OEA President Scott DiMauro. “I’m hopeful that the broad, bi-partisan support in the House is indicative of a new course in education policy - one that addresses the needs of the 90 percent of Ohio students who attend our public schools.”
He said the OEA welcomes what he called the strong bi-partisan recognition that the grading system Ohio uses to determine performance-based vouchers doesn’t accurately reflect how well a school is educating its students, and that the state report cards and the over-reliance on standardized tests to measure student achievement need to be fixed.


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