COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Participation in Ohio’s voucher system that pays for eligible public school students to attend private schools would be based purely on family income in the future, not school performance, under a plan unveiled by House lawmakers Wednesday.
Under current law, Ohio’s EdChoice program provides private school tuition for students at public schools that fail to meet certain state performance guidelines.
The House plan would create the Buckeye Scholarship Opportunity program, and students from families making up to 250% of federal poverty guidelines would be eligible for those payments.
Students currently attending private schools through the voucher program would remain in the program under the House plan.
Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House and Senate have been scrambling to adjust the voucher program to avoid a looming spike in the number of qualifying locations for the program. The list of poor-performing districts and schools was slated to more than double to over 1,200 schools for the next academic year, raising concerns about funding and fairness.
The current voucher system has a class problem, House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican from Glenford in southern Ohio, said earlier this week.
When the only public schools deemed failing and losing money to the voucher program were in Appalachian and predominately black districts, no one seemed to care, Householder said Tuesday at an annual legislative forum sponsored by The Associated Press.
“When all of a sudden there were 1,203 schools on the list and some of them are from the wealthiest suburbs in the state of Ohio, suddenly alarms went off and now we've got to fix this,” Householder said. “That’s a class problem.”
A House education committee approved the plan Wednesday with a full vote planned by the House, but Senate support looked doubtful.
"The House is going to try to pass something that they haven't vetted with us fully," Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, told Gongwer News Service.
Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said this week he wants a voucher system that gives options to students from poor families in bad educational situations, but that also doesn't disrupt public schools. He has yet to weigh in on this.
“We cannot turn our back on kids who are in a difficult situation and whose families do not have the resources that other families have to make choices," DeWine said on Monday. “We want them to be able to make choices, but we also have to protect, preserve our public schools.”