June 15, 2024

Jim Collier: Ohio’s expanded vouchers are bleeding public schools that often outperform the private schools that benefit

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Jim Collier researches media psychology and lives in Upper Arlington, Ohio. In this guest column for cleveland.com, he points out the problems with Ohio’s voucher program.

Last June, Ohio’s Republican supermajority added massive EdChoice voucher expansion to the budget, making all students in grades K-12 eligible for state subsidies to attend private schools, regardless of income. Full benefits ($8,407 for grades 9-12: $6,165 for K-8) are being awarded to all families with incomes at or below 450% of the federal poverty level.

Beyond that level, there is a sliding scale downward, but even the wealthiest families get a minimum subsidy of $650 for K-8 students and $850 for those in grades 9-12.

As of mid-April, the year-to-date cost of EdChoice Expansion vouchers was $430 million, with thousands of applications under review before Fiscal Year 2024 ends on June 30. These costs will almost certainly go much higher next year and beyond, driving property taxes higher everywhere in Ohio lest public schools die on the vine.

EdChoice voucher giveaways tripled this year. Ninety percent of new recipients were already enrolled in private schools, based on a March analysis by News 5 Cleveland, with many coming from wealthy, white families sending their kids to Christian, Catholic or Jewish academies. Many private schools now require parents to apply for EdChoice vouchers because they reduce the financial aid provided from their own coffers. This trend will resegregate Ohio’s schools and siphon badly needed funds from public education – by design.

Private schools participating in EdChoice voucher programs are not subject to the same regulatory standards as public schools. These include standards for licensing of teachers, criminal background checks for employees, curriculum requirements, building safety codes, publicly reporting the results of state and national tests, or accepting students with special needs.

The Ohio Department of Education issues annual report cards that measure the performance of districts and individual schools using five rating categories: achievement, progress, gap closing, graduation and early literacy. One in five Ohio students leave a district that outperforms the charter to which they go in all five rating categories, according to a 2022 analysis published in the Columbus Bar Lawyers Quarterly that also found that the average Ohio charter school has a lower four-year graduation rate than all but one of Ohio’s 611 school districts.

In 2020, the Cincinnati Enquirer conducted a review of nearly 2.5 million student scores on proficiency tests issued by the state of Ohio during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, covering approximately 150 Ohio municipalities. The study found that in 88% of the municipalities in the analysis, a public school district achieved better state testing results than those private schools with an address in the same municipality.

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