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Jan Resseger: Ohio Expands Vouchers at Expense of Public Schools

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In the latest Ohio state budget, there are big giveaways to religious and private schools. The Legislature expanded the state’s voucher programs. Originally, vouchers were supposed to “save poor kids from failing public schools,” but in the new expansion, vouchers are available to high school students who never attended a public school. That is, they subsidize students in religious and private schools. Period.

In the only evaluation of the Ohio voucher program, sponsored by the rightwing Thomas B. Fordham Institute, students who used vouchers fell behind students who stayed in the public schools.

These programs are simply a transfer of public dollars frompublic schools to private schools, with no benefit to students.

Jan Resseger writes here about the latest betrayal of the people of Ohio and the public schools that most children attend, despite the availability of many charters and vouchers.

She begins:

Ohio has five voucher programs. Two of them are for students with autism and other disabilities, and their enrollment depends on the incidence of these conditions and parents’ awareness of the availability of voucher funds to pay for private programs. A third voucher program—the Cleveland Scholarship Program—one of the oldest in the country—is for students in Cleveland.

This blog post will focus on the last two—EdChoice and EdChoice Expansion. They are statewide Ohio school voucher programs designed specifically, according to the Republican lawmakers who have designed and promoted these programs, to enable students to escape so-called “failing” schools. It is important to remember that those same legislators have failed adequately to fund the public schools in Ohio’s poorest school districts, and those same legislators have looked at state takeover as another “solution” (besides expanding vouchers and charter schools) for the students in those districts. Ohio education policy for school districts serving very poor children is defined by punishment, not support.

EdChoice and EdChoice Expansion vouchers rob the public schools of essential dollars needed to educate the majority of Ohio’s students who remain in public schools. And the vouchers are used primarily by students enrolled in religious schools. Through EdChoice and EdChoice Expansion vouchers, the state is sending millions of tax dollars out of the state’s public education budget and out of the coffers of local school districts to fund the religious education of students who would likely never have enrolled in public schools in the first place.

The problem just got worse this summer when the Ohio Legislature passed a two year budget which radically expands both programs. The Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO) recently published an update on its website to inform school treasurers about what just happened. OASBO reports: “HB 166 (the new state budget) expanded the EdChoice Scholarship program in multiple ways.”

Changes in the EdChoice voucher program: Although legislators have always said the purpose of vouchers is to provide an “escape” from so-called failing schools, the new budget provides that high school students are no longer required to have been previously enrolled in a public school to qualify for the voucher. OASBO explains: “Generally, students wishing to claim a voucher under the original EdChoice voucher program must have attended a public school in the previous school year. However, HB 166 codifies in law… (that) students going into grades 9-12 need not first attend a public school. In other words, high school students already attending a private school can obtain a voucher.”

Ohio was one of the leading states in the 19th century “Common school movement,” which created the American public school as a guarantee of free public education for every child. It is now leading the movement to demolish that promise and renounce the state’s proud history. It should go without saying that the state’s Republican leaders have never put a referendum on the ballot to ask the people of Ohio whether they approve of this massive diversion of public funds to religious and private schools. They know it would be rejected.

The Ohio State Constitution, Article 6, Section 2 and 3

Text of Section 2:
School Funds

The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state; but no religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this state.

Text of Section 3:
Public School System, Boards of Education

Provision shall be made by law for the organization, administration and control of the public school system of the state supported by public funds: provided, that each school district embraced wholly or in part within any city shall have the power by referendum vote to determine for itself the number of members and the organization of the district board of education, and provision shall be made by law for the exercise of this power by such school districts.

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