Supporters, opponents debate Ohio's 'Backpack Bill'

Plans are in the works for a suit to block the proposed bill
Posted at 11:25 PM, Oct 07, 2021

OHIO — Supporters and opponents continue to debate Ohio's "Backpack Bill."

We learned there are plans in the works for a suit to block the new school voucher system in the state.

It comes as the first hearing on the plan has not been held yet.

So, what's in this bill?

It boils down to state funding going to where students go — meaning it could be moved from public schools to charter or private schools and even home schooling.

"If you're a student, a parent, a guardian, a grandparent, an aunt and uncle, you know that one-size-fits-all doesn't work," State Rep. Marilyn John (R-Richland County) said.

For that reason, supporters say students should have a choice and that money should not stop parents from choosing the school they feel best fits their child and, more importantly, their views.

"In the pandemic, we saw the need to have innovative and different learning environments where you had some families who, because their local public school decided to not open for in-person education, they were forced into an online environment that wasn't ideal for them," Aaron Baer with Center for Christian Virtue said.

It is described as a money-follows-the-student approach.

"We want to fund students, not systems, and empower parents to make the best decision for their children. When parents have options, they're more engaged, and child outcomes rise," State Rep. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) said.

Here is how it would work:

  • Students K-8th grade would receive $5,500
  • Nine through 12th grade $7,500

Supporters say this would make private education more affordable and it also allows the money to be used for home-schooling supplies.

But some believe it is taking money out of the pockets of public schools.

"This 'Backpack Bill' would fund parents or students instead of a system," William L. Phillis with the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding said.

Phillis, a public school advocate, plans on challenging the bill in court.

He also worries it could open the door for misuse of funds.

"How are they going to monitor hundreds of thousands of vouchers? How would the state monitor and then think of the bureaucracy that would be set up in the treasurer's office? That bill would set up a bureaucracy in the treasurer's office," Phillis said.

Supporters of the bill say they plan to monitor the use of funds.

"And so what we've asked is at the treasurer state office is to have that oversight and then also penalties if that trust with the parents breach," McClain said.

The bill currently sits in the House Finance Committee, but a hearing has not been scheduled yet.