Senate Bill 85 will starve public schools, hurt students
Posted June 05, 2017 in Press Releases
As Ohio public schools struggle to recover from the Great Recession, state lawmakers have steadily diverted resources to private schools by expanding voucher programs. While loosening eligibility requirements, Ohio has increased funding for voucher programs by 352 percent since 2008, according to a new report from Policy Matters Ohio. Now lawmakers are considering further undercutting public schools with legislation that could cost as much as $1.2 billion a year.
Senate Bill 85, introduced by Senator Matt Huffman of Lima, would expand voucher eligibility to cover about 74 percent, or 1.08 million, of Ohio’s students, including many living in high-performing districts. It would increase the current budget for the three voucher programs it replaces — $185 million — more than six-fold. For a family of four living at 200 percent of the poverty line – or $49,200 a year — vouchers would be capped at $5,000 for students in grades K-8 and $7,500 for grades 9-12. Families with incomes up to 400 percent of poverty, or $98,400 for a family of four, would be eligible for 50 percent of the maximum voucher amount. Students with family incomes above 400 percent of poverty are not eligible for the voucher.SB 85 would also allow families to pocket the remaining voucher money in a college savings account if private school tuition is less than the voucher. Funding for vouchers is deducted from state aid that would have gone to a public schools.
“SB 85 uses the guise of school choice to chip away at Ohio’s public school system,” said report author, Policy Matters State Policy Fellow, Victoria Jackson. “Parents think they are giving their children a better education, but even though students using vouchers tend be more well-off than their public school peers, studies show they score worse in math and English.”
Even before the introduction of SB 85, Ohio was heading in the wrong direction by steadily draining the public school coffers in favor of voucher programs, Policy Matters shows. In Fiscal Year 2016, Ohio spent $236.6 million on private school tuition. The recently passed 2018-2019 House budget would increase funding for the income-based EdChoice voucher program by 57 percent over the 2016-2017 budget — appropriating $37.8 million for Fiscal Year 2018 and $47 million for Fiscal Year 2019. Meanwhile, the House budget doesn’t fund traditional public schools enough to keep up with inflation. With the budget now in the its hands, instead of increasing funding for vouchers, the Senate should invest in Ohio’s public schools. Moreover, the Senate should reject the increase in EdChoice Expansion funding.
“SB 85 is straight out of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s playbook,” Jackson said. “Lawmakers should oppose the bill and stop prioritizing underperforming private schools over public education.