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Three Ways Ohio's Proposed Statewide Voucher System Differs from Existing Voucher Program

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Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 12:22 PM

Quy Nguyen DaiNGUYEN DAI / Flickr

Ohio already has a voucher program that uses public dollars to pay for private-school scholarships for students attending low-performing schools. It's called the EdChoice program. (There are separate voucher programs for Cleveland students and for students with autism or other special needs living in any district.)

Now state lawmakers want to introduce a new type of private-school scholarship, or voucher, program for low-income students throughout Ohio. It's called a tax-credit scholarship. A state Senate bill to establish this new voucher program has already moved out of committee and a similar House bill has bipartisan support.

This new proposed voucher system differs from the existing EdChoice voucher program in three big ways.

1. Funding

Current Voucher Program: Funded through state school-funding system.

The state basically deducts a certain amount from a school district's state funding for each student in that district who receives a voucher. (The amount varies depending on the scholarship program and student's grade level. Students in grades K-8 are eligible for up to $4,250; high school students can get up to $5,000.) That means that a district loses $4,250 for each K-8 student who takes a voucher.

New, Proposed Voucher Program: Funded by tax-deductible contributions from people and businesses.

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Each tax credit would cost the state money. But the way Ohio's schools are currently funded, a student who uses a tax-credit scholarship to attend a private school would not cause huge financial losses for most districts. That's because the district is “guaranteed” a set amount of state funding regardless of declining enrollment, the Ohio Department of Education says.

Gov. John Kasich has said he plans to introduce a new way of funding schools in 2013. If that new funding method strips districts of their guaranteed funding levels, then school districts could lose state funding if their enrollments decline. However, if those guaranteed funding levels are removed and this new voucher program starts up, the state could end up spending less on education overall if the total amount spent on vouchers is less than the amount the state would have spent educating those students in public schools. (Makes total sense, right?)

2. Eligibility

Current Voucher Program: Students currently attending or assigned to a public school that received a "D" or "F" from the state for two of the past three years.

New, Proposed Voucher Program: Income limits apply.

The House bill would allow students in any district whose families make less than 150 percent of the federal income eligibility guidelines for reduced-price school lunch to apply for tax-credit vouchers. For this year, that would be about $61,190 for a family of four. The Senate bill sets the limit at twice that, or about $122,380 for a family of four.

3. Availability

Current Voucher Program: For next school year, 60,000 vouchers are available.

New, Proposed Voucher Program: Depends on private contributions received.

For the first year, the total amount of tax credits would be limited to $20 million. If donors contribute exactly $20 million, about 4,000 students could receive scholarships, depending on their grade levels. (High school students could receive larger scholarships than K-8 students.)

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