Approximately 1,800 school choice supporters traveled to Columbus, Ohio to voice their support for educational freedom on May 9, calling for the state to safeguard the Educational Choice (EdChoice) Scholarship Program and Ohio’s community school system.
During his March State of the State address, Gov. Ted Strickland (D) had called for the elimination of the EdChoice Program and proposed placing a moratorium on charter schools. He also included in his executive budget a provision that bans for-profit companies from operating charter schools.
On May 1, the Ohio House of Representatives unanimously passed its version of the state budget, which fully restored the EdChoice Program, created a new scholarship program for special-needs students, lifted the moratorium on charter schools, and returned parity aid and additional support for poor students to charter and virtual schools. At press time, the budget was being debated by the Ohio Senate.
‘Every Kid Counts’
Susan Zanner, executive director of School Choice Ohio, a state-based advocacy group, led the host of voucher and charter school allies on the steps of the Ohio Capitol. My School, My Choice, a coalition of choice advocacy groups, coordinated the event, working with School Choice Ohio to recruit parents, teachers, public charter schools, public e-schools, families, and education leaders to support educational freedom.
“For too many years, our bright and beautiful young people ended up right where they began–in failing schools, without hope, without options,” Zanner said at the rally. “Now thanks to Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program and to Ohio’s 309 charter schools, nearly 84,000 children … have a chance for a bright future.”
House Speaker Jon Husted (R-Kettering), a longtime supporter of charter schools and vouchers, pledged his continued support for choice. Jewish groups showed up in force as well.
“We all come here from different backgrounds, different faiths, and different reasons bring us to Columbus today, but we are here on one goal–to proclaim that every kid counts,” said Rabbi Yehiel Mark Kalish, national director of government affairs for Agudath Israel of America, a group based in New York. “It is a basic American right to allow parents the right to choose [their children’s education], even if the choice is a religious school.”
Organizers noted the vast array of educational options in Ohio and said the rally showed the General Assembly the need for school choice.
Tracie Craft represented the Ohio Chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options at the rally, where she pledged, “Ohio BAEO is committed to ensuring that every family that wants choice has the tools needed to make quality decisions for their children.”
Zanner called the rally “a great success.”
“The energy in the crowd was impossible to ignore, and the many legislators in attendance were very enthusiastic,” Zanner said. “As Speaker Husted noted as families lined up on the Statehouse steps to visit their elected representatives, the rally was truly ‘democracy in action.'”
Students whose resident public school has been on academic watch or in academic emergency–the lowest categories on the state’s school rating system–for two of the past three school years are eligible to apply for 14,000 available EdChoice scholarships to attend the participating private school of their choice.
In 2006-07, the program’s first year, the Ohio Department of Education awarded 3,141 scholarships; to date, 7,957 students have applied for the 2007-08 school year, representing a 153 percent increase between the program’s first and second years of operation.
Ohio’s 309 charter schools serve more than 86,000 students.
Lori Drummer ([email protected]) is director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice.