Ohio’s new state budget, signed by Governor John Kasich last week, makes a number of changes that affect K-12 education. In a series of posts, we’ll be analyzing those changes and what they mean. Today, we look at school vouchers.
Under Ohio’s new state budget, students from low-income families are eligible for vouchers — even if their local schools are high-performing.
That’s a significant expansion of Ohio’s existing voucher programs.
Vouchers are publicly funded tuition subsidies for students attending private schools.
Until now, only students who attended low-performing schools or the Cleveland schools or who had disabilities were eligible for vouchers.
This post is part of StateImpact’s Edu-Budget 2013 series outlining what the 2013 biennial budget does to and for Ohio schools. Read other parts of this series here.
Those students are all still eligible for vouchers. But now low-income students across the state are too.
The low-income voucher program starts with kindergarteners this fall and adds an additional grade each year.
The state budget also:
- Increases the maximum value of vouchers for Cleveland high school students to $5,700; elsewhere in Ohio, high school vouchers remain capped at $5,000 each.
- Broadens the definition of “low-performing” schools for the purpose of the voucher program. Until now, students were eligible for vouchers if their school was rated the equivalent of D or F for two of the last three years or ranked in the lowest 10 percent of schools based on student test scores two of the past three school years. The budget says if a school gets a D or F on the part of its state report card that measures how well they teach students to read, then students at that school are also eligible for vouchers.
- Delays a scheduled evaluation of the state’s voucher program for students with disabilities; and
- Requires private schools where at least 65 percent of students receive vouchers to administer state tests to all students unless their parents opt them out. Current law says only the students who receive vouchers must be tested. (Traditional public schools and charter schools receive report cards based largely on those test results. Private schools do not.)
And even as other states expand vouchers and charter schools, this voucher expansion means Ohio maintains its position as a “school choice” leader, School Choice Ohio legislative director Jason Warner said.
Warner said he was unaware of another state with as many voucher programs.
“It certainly makes us unique,” he said.
How It Works
Ohio’s existing voucher programs for students attending low-performing schools and students with disabilities aren’t going anywhere. Those vouchers are still available to students in any grade.
The budget just creates another way for students to qualify for vouchers under Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program.
Here’s how the expanded EdChoice voucher program compares to the existing EdChoice Voucher program:
|EdChoice Voucher Expansion to Low-Income Families||Existing EdChoice|
|Only kindergarteners are eligible for 2013-14. Kindergarteners and first graders are eligible in 2014-15.||Students in all grades are eligible.|
|Only students whose families make less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines are eligible. That’s less than $46,100 for a family of four.||No income requirements.|
|Worth up to $4,250 for grades K-8.||Same.|
|About 2,000 low-income vouchers available for 2013-14. About 4,000 available for 2014-15.||Limited to 60,000 statewide.|
|Funded from state lottery profits.||Paid for by deducting state funding from student’s local school district.|
Thousands of Calls
School Choice Ohio’s Jason Warner said his group fielded thousands of phone calls from interested parents after Gov. John Kasich proposed expanding Ohio’s voucher program to include low-income students throughout the state in January as part of the state budget.
A similar proposal for income-based vouchers was introduced in 2011 as a stand-alone bill but failed in face of opposition from public school leaders. That time, more than 400 school boards passed resolutions condemning the voucher expansion.
Public school leaders opposed the voucher expansion this time around too, but didn’t get much traction in the House or the Senate, said Barbara Shaner of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials.
Shaner said vouchers were promoted as a way to give students in low-performing schools another option. She said this new voucher program goes far beyond that.
“It moves the whole philosophy about vouchers into a different world. You could have a really high-performing school district and the students that live there could qualify for a voucher,” she said.