Dayton Public Schools is among the groups arguing that the current voucher system is financially unfair to public schools. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

State groups support bill making private-school voucher income-based

The Ohio School Boards Association and two other large public education groups on Tuesday came out in favor of a private-school voucher bill recently passed by the Ohio House that would make new vouchers income-based, rather than tied to the performance of a student’s home school.

Ohio’s House and Senate passed dueling bills proposing different changes to the EdChoice voucher system in the past two weeks. A conference committee is scheduled to meet several times this week and next week, attempting to hammer out a compromise.

LAST WEEK: House passes own bill on vouchers, school takeover

At Tuesday’s press conference, leaders of the Ohio School Boards Association, Buckeye Association of School Administrators and Ohio Association of School Business Officials supported the provisions in Senate Bill 89, which was modified by the House to include EdChoice changes.

Without a change to Ohio’s voucher law, the number of public schools deemed under-performing, where students would be eligible for taxpayer-funded private-school vouchers, would skyrocket from about 500 this year to more than 1,200 this fall.

Barbara Shaner, advocacy specialist for the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, said the financial implications for school districts across the state are colossal.

“Some districts are suddenly losing millions of dollars to the voucher program because of recent changes in law,” Shaner said, pointing to existing students at private high schools who would now be eligible for vouchers. “The loss of these funds impacts students who remain in public schools, because it forces district officials to make cuts that reduce services and opportunities for their students.”

RELATED: Religious group sues over private-school bill

Jennifer Hogue, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said it’s common sense that schools with overall grades of A, B or C should not be on the voucher-eligibility list as “under-performing.” But some would be if the law is not changed.

Kevin Miller, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, cited polling results that 73% of voters oppose public funding being used for private, religious and home-school education.

“Community members who supported local tax levies for their school districts were not told their property taxes would be used to subsidize private school tuition,” Miller said.

The House-passed changes (contained in Senate Bill 89) would prohibit new vouchers based on school performance in most cases. The bill would raise the threshold for income-based vouchers from 200% of the federal poverty level to 250% (about $65,000 for a family of four). Families up to 300% of the poverty level could be available for pro-rated vouchers.

EARLIER: Legislature approves delay in voucher program

The Senate-passed changes (contained in House Bill 9) would lower the number of public schools where students are voucher-eligible from about 500 this year to about 425 this fall, and would limit longtime private school students’ access to new vouchers. The bill would raise the threshold for income-based vouchers from 200% of the federal poverty level to 300%, or $77,250 for a family of four.

Both bills would grandfather in students who received vouchers this year, as well as their siblings, to allow for family continuity. The income-based voucher system in both bills would be directly state funded, rather than passing funding through public schools, with the voucher cost often exceeding those schools’ per-pupil funding.

There were complaints that some provisions in the bills did not get enough vetting in the House and Senate – both voucher provisions as well as unrelated amendments on state takeover of struggling schools and transferring territory from one school district to another.

The conference committee announcement said that group will break with normal practice and allow stakeholder testimony on those issues before it presents a report for the House and Senate to vote on.

EARLIER: Rushed process on school vouchers worries some

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