Accountability Budget Cuts Education Reform Equity Ohio Vouchers

Ohio: Should States Subsidize Private and Religious Education by Subtracting Money from Public Schools?

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Jan Resseger asks the ultimate cost about vouchers, in response to the Ohio legislature’s recent decision to expand vouchers to two-thirds of all school districts in the state, including high-performing districts.

Should public money be subtracted from public schools to underwrite vouchers for private and religious schools? The state’s public schools will be hit hard by the voucher law. And since research funded by the rightwing Thomas B. Fordham Institute showed that kids lose ground in voucher schools, the expansion of vouchers will lower the overall quality of education in the state. Does Ohio have a death wish?

As Resseger shows, the expansion of vouchers is not about education; it is not about improving opportunities for poor kids. It is about damaging public schools and compelling the public to pay for religious education for children who never attended public schools, ever. All the blather about opportunity is blather.

She writes:

Wisconsin and Ohio were the pioneers, the states which launched school vouchers—public tax dollars covering private school tuition.  Wisconsin launched Milwaukee vouchers in 1990, and Ohio followed suit in 1996 with a Cleveland voucher program.

What are the problems with the idea of vouchers?

Vouchers have always been endorsed by their proponents as providing an escape for promising students from so-called “failing” public schools—as measured by test scores.  But research demonstrates (see here and here) that test scores correlate not with school quality but instead with the aggregate income of the neighborhoods where public schools are located and the families who live there.  Research demonstrates that ameliorating student poverty would more directly address students’ needs.

The idea that vouchers help students academically hasn’t held up either.  A study by the pro-voucher Thomas Fordham Institute demonstrates that in Ohio, voucher students regularly fall behind their public school counterparts.  But proponents of school privatization (including the Thomas Fordham Institute itself) regularly ignore the evidence.

In a recent summary published in The Nation, Jennifer Berkshire explains that while there is a lack of empirical evidence justifying vouchers, their proponents support them ideologically: “But the GOP’s true policy aim these days is much more ambitious: private school vouchers for all. In Ohio, students in two-thirds of the state’s school districts are now eligible for vouchers, a ballooning program that is on track to cost taxpayers $350 million by the end of the school year. And in Florida, school vouchers are now being offered to middle-class students, the latest gambit by conservatives in their effort to redefine public education as anything parents want to spend taxpayer money on. ‘For me, if the taxpayer is paying for the education, it’s public education,’ Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis proclaimed earlier this year.”

In Ohio, based on state report card grades which legislators from both parties seem to agree are deeply flawed, vouchers are now to be awarded to students in so-called ‘under-performing’ schools in 400 of the state’s 610 school districts. The Columbus Dispatch‘s Anna Staver explains, “(T)he legislature has widened the definition of a low-performing school to the point of absurdity, expanding the list of districts with ‘under-performing’ schools from 40 in the fall of 2018, to 139 in 2019, and around 400—nearly two-thirds of all districts in the state—by 2020.”

And EdChoice, one of the Ohio’s four statewide voucher programs, takes the money through the deduction method, counting the voucher student as enrolled in the local school and then extracting $4,650 for each elementary school voucher and $6,000 for each high school voucherright out of the public school district’s budget. But a serious problem arises because in Ohio, state funding is allocated at different rates from school district to school district, and in many cases the vouchers extract more dollars per pupil from the local school budget than the state awards to that district in per pupil state aid.

This year’s state budget brought a new threat to public schools via an amendment quietly added and never debated. Until this year, to qualify for a voucher, an Ohio student must have been enrolled in the public school in the year previous to applying for the voucher.  But, secreted into the state budget last summer was an amendment providing that high school students may now receive a voucher even if they have never been enrolled in a public school…

What is rarely mentioned in the voucher debates is that no state legislature creating a voucher program has added a new tax to pay for it.  Instead the money always comes out of the coffers of the state education budget and, as in Ohio today, out of local school district budgets.

Please read the rest. As usual, Resseger is right on target with deep context and analysis, informed by her keen sense of social justice and equity.

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