Research & Commentary: Voucher Program Consolidation, Expansion Would Benefit Ohio Students

Published February 6, 2018

Ohio is considering a proposal that would consolidate three of its five school voucher programs – the Cleveland Scholarship Program, Education Choice Scholarship Program, and Income-Based Scholarship Program – into the Opportunity Scholarship Program, beginning with the 2018–19 school year. The Opportunity Scholarship Program would act as a traditional voucher program unless the tuition at a participating student’s school does not match or exceed his or her scholarship, in which case all leftover funds would be placed into an education savings account (ESA) for the student.

With an ESA, state education funds allocated for a child are placed in a parent-controlled savings account. In the proposed program in Ohio, parents would then be able to use a state-provided, restricted-use debit card to access the funds to pay for the resources chosen for their child’s unique educational program. The ESAs could be used to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, as well as tuition and fees at any college or university in Ohio, textbooks and curriculum, online learning programs, and tutoring services. All leftover funds could be rolled over for use in the following school year, up until a student turns 25 years old.

Funding amounts for the Opportunity Scholarships would be determined by the applying family’s income level, with the maximum potential scholarship amount being $5,000 for K–8 students and $7,500 for high school students. Students would receive the maximum funding if their family’s income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Students from families earning between 201 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level would have their awards calculated on a sliding scale, while students from families with income levels directly at 300 percent would receive 50 percent of the maximum awarded amount. Students who were previously enrolled in at least one of the three preceding voucher programs would also receive the maximum scholarship.

The proposal would cap the number of scholarships during the first year of the program to just 60,000. However, if demand for the scholarships exceeds 90 percent of the maximum number of scholarships (54,000, in the case of the first year of the program), then the scholarship cap would increase by 10 percent the following year.

The popularity of vouchers and other school choice options has grown tremendously in recent years. In December 2017, EdChoice released the results of its fifth annual Schooling in America survey, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc. The survey questioned 1,000 adults spread across the country about their views on K–12 education issues. Sixty-two percent of respondents supported voucher programs, while 71 percent of all respondents said they were in favor of ESAs. Support for ESAs is 76 percent among Millennials, 77 percent for those with incomes under $40,000 a year, 77 percent for blacks, and 81 percent for Hispanics.

School choice programs are broadly popular because they allow parents to exercise their fundamental right to direct the education of their children. Not only are school choice programs like ESAs and vouchers popular, they are also effective. In May 2016, EdChoice released a report in which it examines 100 empirical studies of school choice programs. Eighteen of these studies used random assignment to measure outcomes, referred to in academia as the “gold standard.” The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence makes it clear educational choice offers families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires, and it does so at a lower cost while simultaneously benefitting public school students and taxpayers, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

ESA and voucher programs are not a silver-bullet solution, but they certainly allow families much greater opportunities to meet each child’s particular education needs. The goal of public education in Ohio today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information about school choice.

Education Savings Accounts: Expanding Education Options for Ohio
This report from The Buckeye Institute assesses the benefits of education savings accounts (ESA) and calls on Ohio policymakers to adopt a universal ESA program. The report outlines precisely how ESAs would enable parents to customize their child’s education to meet his or her unique needs and discusses different funding mechanisms for the proposed program.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues
This Heartland Institute booklet explores solutions to the top public policy issues facing the states in 2018 and beyond in the areas of budget and taxes, education, energy and environment, health care, and constitutional reform. The solutions identified are proven reform ideas that have garnered significant support among the states and with legislators.

2017 Schooling in America: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Parent Experiences, School Choice, and the Role of the Federal Government
This annual EdChoice survey, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc., measures public opinion and awareness on a range of K–12 education topics, including parents’ schooling preferences, educational choice policies, and the federal government’s role in education. The survey also records response levels, differences, and intensities for citizens located across the country and in a variety of demographic groups.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examined the effect that increased access to private schooling has on international student test scores in 52 countries around the world, finding that a 1 percentage point increase in the private share of total primary schooling enrollment would lead to moderate increases in student math, reading, and science achievement within nations.

Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

Recalibrating Accountability: Education Savings Accounts as Vehicles of Choice and Innovation
This Special Report from The Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation explores how education savings accounts expand educational opportunities and hold education providers directly accountable to parents. The report also identifies several common types of regulations that can undermine the effectiveness of the program and how they can be avoided.

The School Voucher Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?
This report by Jeff Spalding of EdChoice provides a program-for-program breakdown of school voucher costs and savings. On the whole, Spalding says these programs have provided a cumulative savings of $1.3 billion since 2007, or roughly $3,400 per pupil.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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