Ohio Gov. John Kasich placed two expansions of the state’s EdChoice voucher program in his $15.1 billion budget proposal for 2014-2015, which would increase state funding to schools over the next two years.
“If a school consistently fails to provide their students with the basic reading skills they need to succeed, we want to make sure that parents have alternatives,” said Jim Lynch, an advisor in Ohio’s Office of Budget and Management, in an email.
Students in kindergarten through third grade would qualify for the first expansion if the school they attend receives a D or F grade in literacy on the state report card.
The second voucher expansion would be available to kindergarten students in 2013-2014 and expand to first graders the year after, for families who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s about $67,000 per year for a family of four.
The state would pay the vouchers, instead of deducting funds from school districts, Lynch said. Kasich’s budget sets aside $8.5 million for its first year and $17 million for year two.
Approximately 16,000 Ohio students currently receive vouchers. The existing EdChoice program applies only to schools rated D or F overall, not those failing the literacy component or to all families with lower incomes.
Determining voucher eligibility based on family income rather than school performance is more objective and eliminates data manipulation to raise school scores, which some Ohio districts have done, said Robert Alt, president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions.
The expansion would let students continue receiving vouchers if their family moves to a different district.
“It opens the door of opportunity for a lot more Ohioans,” he said. “If [a school is] making barely passing scores, is that really where you want to be sending your child?”
Sometimes children need something different from what even well-performing schools can offer, said Holli Stevenson, whose two children received Ohio vouchers.
“Parents who don’t make enough money to cover tuition, they’re kind of stuck and the kid is set up for failure,” she said.
In 2009, Stevenson’s family moved to inner-city Cincinnati, and she enrolled her two children in public schools. Soon after, she withdrew them to homeschool for the remainder of the year. When Stevenson learned about EdChoice in a radio ad, she enrolled her children in a private school. Afterward, her son received a large scholarship to a premier high school in town.
“They reawakened the desire for [my son] to learn; it turned him around,” she said. “He’s talking about college now.”
Vouchers also stave off middle-class flight to the suburbs, Stevenson said.
“If we didn’t have the option of EdChoice, we would have moved out of here. We would have left the community we loved,” she said. “It’s not just a school program. It’s a community program. [Families] are able to stay in the community they want to be in, and can pour dollars into the economic situation, and mentor their neighbors, and be part of the community that is trying to thrive and not die away.”
Image by Gov. Steve Beshear’s office.