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Public schools would incur some cost of voucher expansion

An adviser for Gov. John Kasich on Friday provided more funding details about his controversial plan to expand the school voucher program in Ohio.

Kasich is proposing two expansions to the state’s Educational Choice Scholarship, known as EdChoice, said Jim Lynch, special advisor on State Budget Communications.

Since 2006, the program has allowed students in chronically low-performing public schools to move to private or parochial schools using state-funded vouchers. More than 15,000 students used the vouchers in 2011-12, the most recent year Ohio Department data is available.

Kasich’s education reforms include $8.5 million in fiscal year 2014 and $17 million in fiscal year 2015 for vouchers for students in households below 200 percent of federal poverty level. During the governor’s presentation on the reform and funding plan Thursday, officials said the voucher program would be paid for from a separate fund and would not be deducted from school districts.

That’s true with that particular expansion, Lynch said, but it doesn’t apply to a second expansion that would continue to financially impact those school districts that lose voucher-users.

The expansions are:

• Low-income kindergartners anywhere in the state would have vouchers available in the first year. In 2015, vouchers would be extended to low-income first-grade students, Lynch said. He called this a pilot program for students in households under 200 percent of the poverty level, a family of four making $46,100 or less in 2012.

“These scholarships would not be deducted from school districts and instead, be paid directly by the state – limited by the amount of the total appropriation for this pilot program,” he said.

• Following up on the implementation of the new Report Card and Third Grade Reading Guarantee, if students in K-3 fail – or fail to progress in reading – they will be eligible for school vouchers.

“The expansion related to the Third Grade Reading Guarantee would be deducted from the resident district in the same way that the EdChoice program currently operates,” Lynch said, adding the vouchers would be $4,250 for K-8 and $5,000 for 9-12.

Some public officials are concerned about the potential impact expanding the program further could have on public schools.

“I’ll be very curious to see the details on that plan because I’ve always been concerned that could deteriorate our public school options,” State Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, said.

While opponents are against using public dollars to fund private education, proponents believe the vouchers would offer more school choice to those who can’t afford a private education.

Ohio Department of Education data shows 15,403 Ohio students used EdChoice vouchers during 2011-12. School Choice Ohio reports 17,438 students applied for an EdChoice voucher this school year.

In the Miami Valley, the existing voucher program has mainly impacted four districts — Dayton Public, Trotwood-Madison, Springfield, Middletown and Jefferson Twp.

There were about 3,000 voucher applications from those four districts this school year, most of them — 2,036 — coming from Dayton Public, according to School Choice Ohio. The district lost about $30 million from 2006 to 2011, a district official said previously.

Dayton Public Superintendent Lori Ward said she has not seen any type of data on the quality of the education or the performance of students attending schools on vouchers. “I think any expansion should come with some type of an accountability system that would have a report back to the community,” she said.

Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop — whose district had 649 students apply for vouchers this year — has concerns about expanding the program.

“We can compete and I’m not afraid of competition. We’re ready to compete. My gravest concern is that not everyone will compete on a level playing field. That the accountability system, which I didn’t hear or see in the governor’s remarks (Thursday), will apply only to some schools that are receiving state dollars, not all. That troubles me a good deal because what it does is create a system where public money is being expended and there is no accountability, and I’m speaking specifically of private and parochial schools.”

Staff Writer Megan Gildow Anthony contributed to this report.

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