Gov. John Kasich’s new education plan will allow more vouchers to be used for private elementary, middle and high schools. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports on what this change means and how lawmakers are reacting to it.
There are 1.8 million elementary, middle and high school students in Ohio and currently, about 45 percent of them come from families who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Under Kasich’s new education plan, kindergartners and first graders who meet those income guidelines would be eligible for state issued vouchers for private schools.
That means qualifying students would get a voucher for a private school, and that school, if it chooses to admit voucher students, could not charge the families more for tuition.
KASICH: "We want to see if this will help kids to do better. And we want to give parents more choice. The old program means you can get a voucher if you are in a failing district. But we're big believers in choice."
Kasich says the program just builds the first two years into the current budget. But he says it could be expanded in the future so that the students who take advantage of vouchers could continue to use them in later grades.
All of this raises red flags for the minority leader in the Ohio House, Democrat Armond Budish. He says there is not enough money going to schools right now due to massive budget cuts two years ago.
BUDISH: "Rather than start to restore funds that schools need to bring class sizes back down a little bit, to restore some of the cuts in programs, tutors, and the length of school days...Many schools apparently have shortened their school days as a result of the cuts in the last budget. And this budget does very little to help restore those program cuts to numbers of teachers. So by then taking more money away through expanded vouchers, you are only going to cause more harm -- and, in this case, to high performing good schools, because that’s where the expansion is coming."
Budish says many of the schools that would get these vouchers are not performing well already and are not held to the same level of scrutiny as public schools.
BUDISH: "If a school gets public money, they need to be held accountable to the taxpayers for use of those funds. We need to make sure that the rules that apply to public schools also apply to other schools that are getting public money."
But the vice chair of the Ohio House Education Committee, Andy Brenner, a Republican, looks at the accountability issue a little differently.
BRENNER: "Well actually I think we should probably be doing the opposite. I think we should be allowing the public schools more flexibility with how they are handling things. The reality is the voucher schools and the charter schools, they're there and will only be there as long as people want to send their students there. If they are doing a bad job, they will go out of business and the students will leave."
Kasich’s new education plan does allow schools some additional flexibility when it comes to new programming, mandated days of attendance and more.
Brenner says the fact is there’s no reason why good school districts should lose students.
But he says there’s something to remember when Democrats bring up this issue of restoring money to public schools. He says back in 2008, Ohio used federal stimulus dollars to balance the education budget.
BRENNER: "The federal government gave us money...The (General) Assembly two assemblies ago -- the 128th -- chose to use one-time money to prop up the schools for a two-year period. And then when the federal government withdrew the money, it’s no longer there. They think that’s a cut we are making. That’s not a cut that the state of Ohio made. That’s a cut that the feds chose to make"
The governor’s $15.1 billion education plan increases state aid to schools by 6 percent in the coming year and 3.2 percent the year after that.
Brenner says lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will be looking over details of the governor’s plan during the next couple of weeks. And he says if there are bugs that need to be worked out, legislators will do that.
Democratic House Minority leader Armond Budish says Democrats want a seat at the table to help make those decisions.