Springfield students eligible for private school vouchers double

Catholic Central teacher Marcia Roth helps Daniela Gonzalez, left, and Sophie Meier with a probliem in class Monday, Feb. 4, 2019. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

More Clark and Champaign County students, including those who attend nine Springfield City Schools, are eligible for state-funded vouchers to attend private schools next year.

Rockway students in the Clark-Shawnee district and Triad Elementary students in Champaign County are also eligible for the vouchers.

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The number of students throughout Ohio who are eligible to pay for private schools with taxpayer money will almost double next school year, according to Ohio Department of Education data. Tougher state-tests have led to lower scores throughout the state — meaning more schools are designated as under-performing.

Springfield City Schools Superintendent Bob Hill said it is wrong that his schools are designated under-performing because the district offers more than what test scores can indicate.

“It is unfortunate that the state designates schools as under-performing based on testing and report card results that I contend are strongly linked to poverty,” he said. “As I have stated many times and I will continue to state, the bottom line is that the report card is not a true reflection of the Springfield City School District.”

The voucher system will use test scores from the 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2017-2018 school years to determine what schools are designated EdChoice. Students who attend EdChoice schools are eligible for the vouchers.

The number of Ohio public school buildings where students are eligible to leave will rise from 255 to 487, state data says.

In Springfield, city students who attended Fulton Elementary, Kenwood Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Warder Park-Wayne Elementary and Keifer Academy were eligible for the vouchers this year. More than 400 students have taken advantage of them and are attending private school on the taxpayer dime, according to state data.

The Springfield private schools that have the most students using vouchers are Catholic Central with 205 students and Emmanuel Christian Academy with 66 students.

Schools that have been approved to accept voucher students next year Catholic Central, Emmanuel Christian Academy, Guiding Shepherd Christian School, Nightingale Montessori Inc, Ridgewood School, Risen Christ Lutheran School and Springfield Christian, according to the state.

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N0w, all of those students along with Hayward Middle School, Mann Elementary, Perrin Woods Elementary and Schaefer Middle School are eligible for the vouchers next school year.

“When parents consider the Springfield City School District, they must understand that we proudly serve a diverse student population by offering a breadth of options and a flexibility to personalize education that no one else in our area can match,” Hill said.

Hill said he does not believe that more students will leave, and he said the district is working to earn back students who have already left.

“The district will continue to improve and work to return the 400 students who utilize the EdChoice program to SCSD. Ultimately, I do not believe that the expansion to more SCSD schools will result in a greater number of students leaving the District” he said.

Local Reaction

Clark Shawnee Superintendent Brian Kuhn was surprised when he learned that Rockway Elementary was a part of the expanded list of eligible schools.

The Clark-Shawnee district has long been considered one of the best academic districts in the county and Kuhn said he believes students do get a top education at every building in his district.

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“Rockway is an amazing school with small class sizes and an amazing staff,” he said.

Families have a long history of attending Rockway School, Kuhn said, including grandparents, parents and now their current students. The school personalizes education for each student, the superintendent said.

The test scores used to put Rockway on the list are outdated, Kuhn said, and don’t reflect the type of education students get at the school.

“The most concerning part about the EdChoice criteria is the age of the data that they are using: They are using 2012, 2013, 2014 school year to make this decision,” he said. “So for instance, If I had a 5th grader back in 2012-2013 school year, they are juniors. Seventh graders have graduated. They are using really, really old data.”

Rockway School met four out of 10 indicators in the last testing session, according to ODE data. It received a C for its achievement portion of the report card but a D overall.

Kuhn said the district has a waiting list for elementary school students who want to open-enroll in the district and he doesn’t expect a mass exodus from his district to private schooling.

Triad Superintendent Vickie Hoffman also said she believes the community supports her district and she doesn’t expect a lot of students to leave.

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“I am very excited about all of the positive things happening at Triad Local Schools,” she said. “We are working on a plan to increase achievement and continue to make growth in instructional practices and use of student data. Although I know that students can choose to attend a private school I am confident that our community will continue to support our district and remain Triad Cardinals.”

Triad Elementary School received a B grade overall but had a D for its improving K-3 Literacy score, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Catholic Central President David Fuller said the school believes the increase in vouchers will result in higher enrollment.

“Catholic Central’s student body today represents about 40 percent non-Catholics,” he said. “This large contingency of students is relatively unknown in the greater Springfield community. We take great pride in educating students of any family who supports our values. More importantly, it gives the students a chance to attend a catholic and college preparatory school. The scholarship program enables this to happen. It evens the playing field giving all students an equal chance and we have the capacity to handle the growth.”

Over 94 percent of students who graduated from Catholic Central last year are attending a four-year university and collected about $3.5 million in scholarships, Fuller said.

Emmanuel Christian School Administrative Assistant Kimberly Lisle handles the schools EdChoice Scholarship applications. She said the school has students from all grades and backgrounds that utilize the vouchers.

“While it is never ideal to see a school designated under-performing, the addition of these schools to the eligible list gives families who may have otherwise not been able to afford a private education, the opportunity to achieve that,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how the addition of the several new elementary and middle school’s will affect enrollment. The state of Ohio has only recently published this list, so we have not yet been able to gauge how much enrollment will be affected for the upcoming school year.”

A state issue

There are 23,245 students this year in Ohio using traditional private-school vouchers, and another 10,735 in a separate voucher program for low-income students from any district, according to the Ohio Department of Education. Those numbers have been increasing gradually in recent years in both programs.

That leaves room for another 26,000 students to join those programs, as the state has long agreed to fund up to 60,000 voucher students statewide. State school superintendent Paolo DeMaria said he’s not aware of any private schools planning to expand their buildings to attract more EdChoice voucher students.

DeMaria said the state has embraced the idea of giving families options for their students, especially where there home school “has persistent underperformance.” But he said he doesn’t expect a “massive migration” of students from one school to another, pointing out that school switches can be very disruptive and should be taken seriously.

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“People make decisions about where to go to school for any number of reasons,” DeMaria said, citing safety, friends, caring teachers and student motivation. “I sent my kids to a city of Columbus school when I knew the school report card there wasn’t particularly good, because I liked the program and the principal and the staff and so on. And they did fine. I don’t think people will see some huge increase (in voucher participation).”

How the state designates a school as underperforming:

1) Performance

The school received a Performance Index grade of D or F and a Value-Added (overall) grade of D or F on both the 2013 and 2014 Ohio School Report Cards; the school did not receive an overall grade of A or B and Value-Added (overall) grade of A on the 2018 report card.

The school received a Performance Index grade of D or F and Value-Added (overall) grade of D or F on either the 2013 or 2014 report card; the school received an overall grade of D or F on the 2018 report card.

2) Graduation

The school serves grades 9-12 and received a Graduation Rate grade of D or F on any two report cards from 2013, 2014 and 2018.

3) Lowest 10 percent

The school ranked in the lowest 10 percent of public school buildings on the Performance Index on the Ohio School Report Cards for any two Performance Index rankings from 2013, 2014 and 2018; the school did not receive an overall grade of A or B on the 2018 report card. Lowest 10 percent of PI ranking uses the same accountability rules that create the official PI ranking. Cleveland Municipal schools, community schools and STEM schools not operated by a district are removed before calculating the 10th percentile.

4) Literacy

The school received a grade of D or F for Improving At-Risk K-3 Readers on the 2014 and 2018 report cards.

5) District Performance

The school’s public district has an open enrollment policy under which no student in the grade level is assigned to a specific school building; the district received a Performance Index grade of D or F and overall Value-Added grade of D or F on the 2013 and 2014 report cards; and the district received an overall grade of D or F or Value-Added (overall) grade of F on the 2018 report card.

6) Academic Distress

The school’s public district has an academic distress commission.

Facts & Figures

413: The number of Springfield City students who currently utilize state vouchers to attend private school

9: Springfield City Schools now designated as underperforming by the state

2: New districts next year that will have schools designated EdChoice