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Private school vouchers now higher than state funding many Ohio public schools get per student

The entrance to Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District's Heights High, pictured in 2022. Advocates at the school district have long called out the financial burden caused by students leaving the district and taking state funding with them.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
The entrance to Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District's Heights High, pictured in 2022. Advocates at the school district have long called out the financial burden caused by students leaving the district and taking state funding with them.

When Ohio Governor Mike DeWine approved the state’s budget earlier this summer, the state boosted private-school EdChoice scholarships to $8,407 for high school students. That’s now more than what many public school districts are receiving, on average, in funding from the state.

And it’s quite a bit more than what some schools are receiving, like, rural Cardinal Local School District in Geauga County ($3,291 per student), suburban Parma City School District ($2,552 per student) or the state’s largest urban school district Columbus City Schools ($4,390 per student).

That’s according to an analysis of state school funding data based on estimates included in the state’s final budget.

The state over the last three decades has steadily increased the number, and dollar amount, of taxpayer-funded vouchers it provides families to attend private schools of their choice, and the EdChoice scholarship - previously for students with a family income at or below 250% of the federal poverty line - has grown to be the most-used voucher.

The state in the budget boosted its total annual EdChoice scholarship amount but also drastically expanded access to it, with any family in Ohio now eligible for at least some portion of the scholarship regardless of income; families earning 450% or less of the poverty line ($135,000 for a family of four) now will receive the full scholarship ($8,407 for a high school student, $6,165 for a Kindergarten-through 8th grade student). The state has budgeted $1.9 billion for the scholarships over the next two years.

At the same time, the state also did significantly expand public school funding over the next two years, under the continued rollout of the “fair school funding formula," initially introduced by lawmakers in 2021. The total amount of foundation funding for public schools - the state funding which makes up the bulk of their revenue outside of local taxes - still far outpaces private-school funding (about $24.5 billion over the life of the biennial budget), but Ohio's public school system is also educating the majority of students, about 1.55 million students compared to about 62,000 private school students who receive EdChoice scholarships; there are about 170,000 private school students total.

Public school advocate Steve Dyer, a former Ohio Education Association analyst and former Democratic state representative, crunched the numbers in a recent blog post and came away outraged; he said the $8,407 per-pupil EdChoice voucher amount is now higher than the per-student aid for nearly eight in 10 Ohio students

“It’s totally illogical unless you look at it through the lens of they (Republican lawmakers) really don’t believe in public education and they’re trying to starve it by taking a couple billion dollars out of the (budget) line for public schools,” he said.

According to an Ideastream Public Media analysis of the state’s estimates of funding for schools as of the 2025 fiscal year, per-pupil (if enrollment were the same as it is today), Ohio’s eight major high-poverty, urban schools will receive $7,786 per-student in funding on average; the students in Ohio’s high-poverty rural districts, as defined by the Ohio Department of Education, will receive $8,012 per-student. Both are lower than the voucher scholarship amount for high-school students.

Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, noted however that when property taxes and state funding are taken into account, public school districts on average receive about $14,000 in total taxpayer funding per-pupil. The Fordham Institute is an education policy nonprofit that frequently advocates for increased support for private and charter schools in Ohio.

The total taxpayer support going to the students is still much lower for those students who are in private schools,” Aldis said.

All of Ohio’s “big 8” major urban school districts, outside Cincinnati and Columbus, also will receive more in state funding individually per-pupil than the voucher amount; according to state budget estimates, Cleveland will receive $9,311 per-pupil this year, while Akron will receive $9,671. Cincinnati and Columbus are outliers, only receiving $4,674 and $4,390 per-pupil respectively.

That’s due to the property tax base available in those two cities, because of the state’s funding formula, Dyer said; the higher the property tax a school district receives, the less they receive in state aid, although it also takes into account the number of students living in poverty, their race and other statistics.

There are several things to be concerned about when looking at the state’s expansion of vouchers, Dyer said, including that there are far less controls over how private schools might be spending the funds they get from the taxpayer-funded scholarships. Private schools are not audited each year like public district schools and public charter schools.

Dan Heintz, a board of education member for Cleveland-Heights University Heights, argued that Ohio’s EdChoice vouchers are unconstitutional and a misuse of funds that would be better spent on public education. His school district and roughly 200 others have joined a lawsuit against the state on that front.

Private schools don't take just any students,” he said. “They can, by law, discriminate. They can discriminate against students whose sexual identity they don't support. They can discriminate against students with special needs. And they can discriminate against students based on gender. Public tax dollars support all students. Public tax dollars support the public education that is the foundation of our democracy.”

Lacey Snoke, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education, said private schools must adhere to the same “operating standards” as public schools – which are rules in Ohio’s administrative code setting out requirements for education programs.

According to those rules, the leaders of those private schools are only required to submit a plan to meet those standards; however, she said they “may be subject to site reviews” upon complaint.

Dyer called the increase to private school vouchers a “colossal turd in the punchbowl” of what should have been a positive moment when the state increased support for public schools in the budget.

“I guess I have just one question for Senate President Matt Huffman (with whom I served in the Ohio House): If you’re so concerned about the 'sustainability' of the Fair School Funding Plan as you claim, why aren’t you similarly concerned about the 'sustainability' of this voucher scheme that would provide more per pupil state funding to parents who are already sending their kids to schools whose books aren’t open to the public?" Dyer wrote.

John Fortney, director of communications for the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus, offered a response.

“Speaking of questions, maybe the former staffer for the OEA, should ask why he thinks it is a good idea to vilify parents who support the ability to use a scholarship to obtain a better educational option for their children,” Fortney said. “The new state budget also invests an additional $1.9 billion into public schools. Fortunately the budget realigns the duties of the Department of the Education and State School Board so they are finally accountable and results driven. That is something that has failed parents for years.”

It's not yet clear how many more students will take the EdChoice vouchers this school year. A recent study has shown steady growth in the use of the vouchers in recent years, although it also suggested those vouchers were increasingly going to families who already had students attending private schools.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.