Eye on Education

Ohio Edu-Budget 2013: Low-Income Students Everywhere in Ohio Now Eligible for Private School Vouchers

superintendent with student

Cindy Hepner / South Jersey Times/Landov

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.

Ohio Edu-Budget 2013
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.

More Voucher Changes
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.)

The change makes Ohio one of the three states that make students eligible for vouchers based on their families’ income, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

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.


  • Legislative Thiefs

    Insane! School could be great but parents still get the cash for private school. This will make parents even harder to deal with as they threaten school districts with pulling kids out unless demands met. Vouchers for poor performing schools and low income fine, but this is a whole new mess coming. All to hep pay there buddies private school venture. Not about kids since no accountability for those schools with state testing. Pure rubbish!

    • Beth

      My parents PAID for private school for my sister and I while ALSO paying taxes to a public school we did not attend. Our schools state tested each year.
      Paying twice for school so your child can attend the school of your choice: PURE RUBBISH!

      • lisa

        i agree, i pay high taxes to the new schools build in my city. income tax and property towards it. if public school parents dont feel this law is just , they should petition that private school residence are not to be taxed for public school taxation. but we know that wont happen. they dont want there taxes going up more…


  • Trent Humphries

    The big story here – the one that I would love for journalists to examine – was briefly touched on in this article.

    HB 136 was the ‘similar’ voucher bill that was introduced last year. It failed not just because education advocates spoke up against it, but also because a number of parents and community leaders pointed out a number of glaring issues with the legislation that run counter-intuitive to good governance. (One of the largest problems — a striking lack of oversight for tax dollars and academic results.) Republicans and Democrats voted this legislation down.

    But here’s the real story. HB 136 failed on its own, but passed when its primary components were reintroduced in the massive, 5,000+ page budget bill.

    Article II, Section 15(D) of the Ohio Constitution reads: “No bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.” The founding fathers of our state recognized the need for transparency. This constitutional law is so clear that my children can understand what it means. Why, then, are our Ohio state leaders “log rolling” countless new policy changes, laws and mandates into each new budget bill?

    Help me out with this, State Impact and fellow voters.

    • Linda Cullison

      There is one main ingredient that made America great–its public education! Giving vouchers to kids to “escape” bad schools is one thing. Giving vouchers to kids to escape high performing public schools is the most stupid thing I have ever heard of!!

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