Cincinnati Public Schools lost 510 students this year to vouchers. The remaining voucher recipients are kindergartners or charter students who would have been assigned to the poor-performing schools. District Superintendent Rosa Blackwell declined to be interviewed about vouchers because of a scheduling issue, district spokeswoman Janet Walsh said.
The student losses could cost the system about $3.3 million in state aid, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
At Parker, Kayla’s old school, enrollment dropped from 660 students last year to 515 this year, according to an unofficial count. Voucher recipients represented most of the enrollment drop, and the overall decline caused the school to revise its budget from $4.16 million to $3.33 million, Walsh says.
Teacher Patsy Holmes says the changes have been difficult. Parker lost eight of 41 teaching positions at the beginning of the year. The shuffle of teachers, who were sent to other schools with vacancies, caused a disruption to students, Holmes says. Classes also are larger, she adds.
But Walsh says the district’s schools aren’t concentrating on their losses. Instead, they are working to improve academics.
Parker, for instance, has more teacher development and coaching this year. Teachers are working in teams and with mentors.
“Cincinnati Public Schools has a game plan for improving student achievement in the voucher schools and the schools not affected by the voucher program,” Walsh says. All schools, she says, “but especially those struggling with student achievement, are getting intensive support at the schoolhouse.”
Yet the disruption continues at some schools, like Parker, which first had to adjust to a loss of students and now are seeing some return. Overall, 41 voucher recipients have come back to Cincinnati Public Schools or never followed through with a voucher, Walsh says.
Holmes says some students returned to Parker because the school offers better services for students with special needs than many private schools. And unlike private schools, she says, the public district doesn’t turn children away.
While the public and private schools work out their challenges, students continue to adjust.
Kayla says she misses her friends from Parker, but she likes her new school more. She has been recognized at Christ Emmanuel, receiving a star for responsibility, and she recently achieved the top score on a science test of all the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders.
“I love Christ Emmanuel,” Kayla says. “The teachers are very nice, and if I don’t understand something, they stick with it until I understand.
“The teachers really pay attention to you because they don’t have to walk around stopping fights all the time. Now that I’m going to Christ Emmanuel, I see that’s not how school should be.”
— Jennifer Mrozowski