Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program (EdChoice) was launched with a simple argument: Children should not wait while failing schools dither around with ineffective programs. State law authorized a pilot scholarship program, creating a voucher program to enable students in underperforming districts to enroll in private schools. The voucher funds are deducted from state aid to their home districts
The pilot program, rolled out in the fall of 2006, has ballooned since. From the initial 14,000 vouchers, it has grown under John Kasich to 30,000 and to 60,000 vouchers this year. In the two-year budget under consideration, the governor proposed, and the House has approved, more expansions.
One expansion provision in the budget bill is pegged to the new Third Grade Reading Guarantee. It would make children in kindergarten through third grade who fail to make progress in reading eligible for EdChoice scholarships, with the funding deducted from the home district.
Another provision targets kindergartners in families anywhere in the state whose income is below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (about $47,000 for a four-person family this year). Beginning this fall, they would be eligible for EdChoice vouchers. Scholarships would be available to first-graders as well the following school year. The bill would create a separate pool of state funding, $25 million over two years, for this expansion.
With the proposals, EdChoice, in effect, would no longer be limited to “failing” districts. In particular, the expansion to low-income families anywhere in Ohio would be a significant extension in the reach of the program and a shift in current policy, which is to give students an alternative to underperforming schools. The rapidly expanding program would open wider the spigot of public funds to private and parochial schools and continue the drain of funds from public schools.
More, Peggy Lehner, who chairs the Senate Education Committee now reviewing the education budget, observes correctly that the proposal masks a significant but yet undebated shift from current policy, which is to give students an alternative to failing schools, not to provide “a private choice to any child 200 percent or less of poverty.” She pleads rightly for an honest policy discussion.