The Ohio Senate has passed legislation which increases access to tuition vouchers through Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program, as well as changes the guidelines for eligible schools.
Ohio’s EdChoice Program allows students from eligible public schools to attend certain private schools and awards up to $4,650 for grades K-8 and $6,000 for grades 9-12, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
The bill, passed last week, raises the income cap for those eligible to access the program from 200% to 250% above the federal poverty line. For a family of four, that moves the cap from $52,400 to $65,500, increasing the number of families that would have access to the program.
The bill also changes which schools are eligible to participate in the program. Students are now eligible for the program if at least 20% of the student’s school district is made of federally-designated Title 1-eligible students and the student’s building’s performance falls in the bottom 20% for the 2017-18 and 2018-2019 school years.
“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,” said Ohio Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) in a statement announcing the bill’s passing. “Earlier this year, we heard hours of testimony from families, teachers and school administrators. I greatly appreciate their input, as well as the work my colleagues in the legislature put into listening and creating a solution.”
The bill has received pushback from teacher’s groups, who say that the bill takes tax dollars away from public schools and increases the number of schools eligible for EdChoice.
“The plan, contained in Senate Bill 89, will designate 473 school buildings in 87 public school districts as ‘failing,’” the Ohio School Boards Association said in a statement. “…Of these 473 schools, 110 buildings received an A, B or C on the 2018-19 state report card, representing 21% of the total schools on the eligibility list. 43 of these buildings will become EdChoice eligible despite never before having been on the eligibility list.”
The association said the bill is harmful to schools’ ability to perform properly.
“This outcome will have a devastating impact on school budgets amid state revenue cuts, declining local revenues, and mounting pandemic costs. This harmful plan will continue to siphon locally voted tax dollars away from students in public schools and send them to unaccountable private schools,” the association said. “This threatens districts’ abilities to serve and provide opportunities for their remaining students-students who have chosen to attend their public schools-and jeopardizes the quality of their educational experiences.”
The bill, which has passed both the Ohio House of Representatives and the Senate, is now headed to the governor’s desk.
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter with The Ohio Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair.