Proponents of publicly funded charter and private schools can make a donation to the school choice movement through their local Bureau of Motor Vehicles if one state lawmaker gains support for legislation that could hit the statehouse floor by early October.
Columbus area Rep. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, is seeking sponsors for a bill that would allow drivers to purchase state-issued license plates that endorse school choice in name and funding.
“It’s advertising like any other cause that we put on license plates,” said Brenner.
A portion of the license plate cost would be donated to School Choice Ohio, a non-profit organization that supports private and charter school alternatives to traditional public schools.
Brenner said donations routed from the BMV purchase are no different than those made to the Lake Erie Protection Fund when Ohio drivers, including himself, buy a license plate with a Lake Erie design.
And it’s not the only school choice initiative he hopes to have ready when the Ohio House reconvenes after summer recess.
“I’ve actually got a slew of education bills I’d like to introduce,” Brenner said.
His school choice initiatives include:
• A “parent trigger” bill that would give parents the right to oust school board members, public school officials and teachers of “failing” schools, or convert those schools into charter schools. “If they’re stuck in a failing school they can put it on the ballot,” Brenner said.
• H.B. 228, an education funding reform bill that eliminates guaranteed dollars for many urban and shrinking schools while increasing funding for many rural, growing schools, including those in Brenner’s district. “The rural districts are subsidizing the urban districts. We’re subsidizing them because they’ve lost students and not funding.” Brenner said.
• H.B. 158, a tax incentive program that would allocate $20 million in state revenue to fund tax write-offs for businesses that donate up to $300,000 to private schools.
After championing a resolution to create “School Choice Week,” Brenner said he is looking for sponsors to introduce the parent trigger and school-choice license plate bills, as well as support for the funding reform and tax incentive bills.
Brenner said the bills cut through bureaucratic red tape and allow businesses and parents to direct education.
William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy in School Funding, disagrees.
“All of these provisions are attempts to remove the public from the governance of education and the control of the public purse,” he said.
For instance, state revenue from license plate sales should not fund programs that promote private education, he said.
“To take that public money and give it to a private institution, to a private agency that ... operates pretty much in the dark as transparency goes,” Phillis contends, “… it is contrary to our concept of democracy.”
Phillis’ group is the organization of schools that litigated the DeRolph school funding case in the 1990s, winning an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that Ohio’s system of public schools are inadequately and inequitably funded, largely because property taxes are the foundation.
School Choice Ohio, the benefactor of Brenner’s tentative legislation, promotes awareness of private voucher programs.
The mission includes reaching out to parents about the opportunity to receive public funds to attend private schools, according to the organization’s mission listed on a federally exempt tax return.
The organization’s 2012 filing with the IRS showed $1.2 million in revenues, and about two-thirds of its expenditures for employee-related costs, advertising and promotion and lobbying.
“We certainly appreciate Rep. Brenner in all that he had done in support of school choice as well as support for our mission to educate parents on their choices for education in Ohio,” said Jason Warner, legislative director for School Choice Ohio.
Warner dismissed any characterization that School Choice Ohio is “only out there to support the privatization of education.”
“We are best known as proponents of the five [private school] voucher programs, but our state mission is promoting all school options,” he said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.