Ohio introduced its fifth school voucher program when Gov. John Kasich signed the state’s 2014-2015 budget.
Beginning this fall, the Income-based Scholarship Program will offer 2,000 kindergarteners from families whose income is below 200 percent of the federal poverty line—or up to $47,100 for a family of four—up to $4,250 for private school tuition. The program will grow at the rate of one grade higher in each of the next 12 years, until the program extends through all of K-12.
Existing voucher programs address failing public schools, especially schools in Cleveland, and special-needs students.
“This scholarship is different from Ohio’s four other voucher programs in that it is based solely on the household income of a child,” said Sarah Pechan, senior director of programs at
School Choice Ohio. “Ohio’s leaders recognize that we can no longer afford to have our lowest-income students receiving subpar educational opportunities.”
The new voucher is a key effort in reforming Ohio education, said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.
Half of Ohio’s Kids Eligible
“After the full phase-in, well over half of Ohio students will be eligible for a state-funded scholarship to attend the private school of their choice,” Pechan said.
Participating students may continue to receive the voucher even if their household income rises above 200 percent of the poverty line, as long as they continue attending a chartered nonpublic school.
As with the other voucher programs, private schools choose whether they will participate. Pechan said she has received enthusiastic responses from private schools and expects hundreds to participate.
Voucher students must take the same state tests as their public school peers, and private schools with a voucher population of 65 percent or more will test non-voucher students as well, with the parent’s consent.
Administering state tests will not harm private schools, said Jeff Murray, manager of Ohio operations for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
“Most private schools I have interacted with are ready, willing, and able to administer whatever assessments the state calls for at any time,” Murray said. “They are confident that their curricula, teachers, support staff, and students—voucher or otherwise—are up to the challenges.”
Holli Stevenson’s daughter attends Cincinnati Waldorf School using another state voucher.
“There are a lot of families that cannot afford private education, so they are just kind of stuck. [The voucher] will open a lot of doors for families to find an alternative education opportunity for their kids,” Stevenson said.
Greg Lawson, a policy analyst at the free-market Buckeye Institute, also praised the voucher program’s emphasis on families, saying he hopes it sparks “a much longer conversation that money should follow the child, that it should be empowering parents, not empowering the bureaucracy. [The program] gives lower-income families a chance to be able to buy into the type of education they may have had challenges historically receiving.”
Image by MaST Charter.