Ohio Lawmakers Reach Stalemate in School Choice Debate, Freezing Application Period

New legislation passed by Ohio’s House of Representatives would phase out the school performance voucher. The voucher allows families with children attending a low-performing school to send their children to a private or parochial school instead. 


Lawmakers passed a 60-day freeze, pushing back the window for new voucher applications until April 1. Families and schools affected by the moratorium filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing it hurts families who planned to enroll on February 1 like in past years.


Other school choice vouchers will remain like the income-based Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship, through which families at 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible to send their children to a school of their choice.


Other voucher programs include the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship which allows disabled students to attend private or parochial schools, and the Autism Scholarship Program which allows autistic students to attend a school that specializes in addressing the needs of students with autism.


Problems arose with how school performance is measured. The Ohio Department of Education began issuing schools a local report card grading the school’s performance in 2013. If a school performs poorly it is more likely to become voucher eligible which means more students are eligible to leave the school district.


But Ohio schools had just undertaken changes to the testing system. Paper and pencil tests were moved online, the state switched to a new testing company and more state-mandated tests were added. 


Because of these changes, Ohio schools were given three “safeharbor years” to adjust to the new testing system and school report card system. For school years ‘14-’15, ‘15-’16 and ‘16-’17 none of a school’s data could be used by the state to rank school performance and determine voucher eligibility. Data could be collected in school years ‘17-’18 and ‘18-’19, but that data was paired with data from the ‘13-’14 school year. 


This led to the number of low-performing schools in Ohio growing significantly. Kevin Miller is Director of Government Relations for the Ohio Superintendents Association.  

Miller said legislation should focus on those who need these vouchers.

“I think our organization understands the need for school choice should be limited to focusing on families who live at a level of poverty and are attending a truly low-performing school, but the current legislation is a huge overreach,” Miller said, “We’re going back to that legislation that was enacted in 2013 and very few could understand how it was going to impact districts in 2020.” 


Miller said the real issues came when lawmakers changed a single word in that legislation, “The previous legislation used the word ‘and’; that you had to be low performing in a variety of areas on a local report card,” Miller said, “That legislation changed the word ‘and’ to ‘or’, meaning that you could be low-performing in just one component of the local report card to become EdChoice-eligible.”


By that standard, over 70% of school districts in Ohio have at least one building that is EdChoice eligible.


The senate is likely to vote on the House-approved measure this week, but it’s unlikely to pass. 


Superintendents for Kent Local Schools, Ravenna Local Schools and St. Patrick Parochial School were unavailable for comment.