COLUMBUS – A plan to replace the EdChoice voucher program and lay the foundation for an overhaul of Ohio’s school report card and testing system has been approved by the Ohio House of Representatives.
The legislation, added to Senate Bill 89, would create the Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship, a scholarship that would give top priority to Ohio’s low-income students.
The plan would take effect beginning with the 2020-21 school year.
“This is the first step on the road to meaningful education reform that works for all Ohio students, regardless of their ZIP Code or circumstances,” said Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford). “The Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship plan will put low-income students at the front of the line.”
Among the key differences between the EdChoice voucher and the new Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship are that scholarships under the Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship are designed to be directly funded by the state and awarded based on income.
Ohio’s current EdChoice voucher system is primarily based on the so-called “failing schools” model. Under this approach, schools deemed underperforming based on a series of education-related criteria are placed on a list and their students are made eligible for a voucher to attend a private school.
The system has come under close scrutiny from lawmakers and educators alike in recent months following the state’s announcement that the list of “underperforming” schools was going to balloon from 517 for the current school year to 1,227 for the 2020-21 school year – more than 40 percent of the traditional public schools in the state.
“What this entire process has really underscored is the need to overhaul our school accountability system,” said Primary and Secondary Education Committee Chairman Don Jones (R-Freeport), who spent more than 20 years as a teacher before his election to the Ohio House.
Under the legislation, no new building performance-based vouchers will be issued once this school year is complete. In its place will be the new family-income based Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship.
Students from families with an income of up to 250 percent of poverty – $65,600 for a family of four – would be eligible for a full Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship. The current income-based EdChoice expansion voucher has an income limit of 200 percent of poverty.
The maximum scholarship amount would be $4,650 for grades K-8 and $6,000 for high school, the same as the current limits for the EdChoice voucher.
Notably, the legislation begins the transition to a program that will be directly funded by the state. Currently, school performance-based vouchers are paid for by deducting state aid from local schools, while the income-based voucher is directly state paid. Vouchers for current students who renew their scholarships would be funded similarly, except that for students who qualify for both, the income-based voucher would be the default.
All Buckeye Opportunity Scholarships awarded to first-time voucher recipients will be directly funded by the state. The number of scholarships available will be limited by the amount of funding appropriated each year, as is the case under current law.
As part of the House-led effort to overhaul Ohio’s school report card and testing scheme, the legislation establishes the State Educational Assessments Study Committee to evaluate state and federal testing mandates, report card performance measures and any potential waivers the state could seek from federal testing requirements. A report is expected later this year.
Lawmakers in the House have already begun work to reform the state’s school report cards, Householder noted. “We’ve got good schools and good teachers all over the state, and I don’t believe the state report cards accurately reflect the academic performance of the kids coming out of these schools,” Householder said.
The legislation also dissolves Ohio’s three Academic Distress Commissions – which are currently in place in East Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown – and prevents new ones from being created until at least 2024.
Under the amendment, led by State Representative Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville), the locally-elected school board and the superintendent may work with a state-appointed State Transformation Board to identify the root causes of academic distress, chart a path for improvement and develop a plan together to get the job done.
For more information, contact Taylor Jach at (614) 466-0536 or Taylor.Jach@ohiohouse.gov