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OHIO SCHOOLS Taft to expand voucher program



Published: Thu, February 10, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



If passed, the program would give pupils $3,500 to attend a private school.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Gov. Bob Taft plans to expand a school voucher program currently limited to Cleveland, allowing up to 2,600 pupils at schools with persistently failing test scores to attend the private school of their choice, The Associated Press has learned.

Taft, a Republican, will include the $9 million expansion, called the Limited Ohio Choice Scholarship, as part of the two-year state budget being introduced today, said several Ohio education groups briefed on the proposal Wednesday.

The proposal will provide scholarships of $3,500 to pupils to attend the private school of their choice beginning in the fall of 2006, said representatives of the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, among others.

Elementary children in schools that fail to meet state proficiency standards in math and reading three years in a row would be eligible.

If implemented today, the scholarships would be available to children at 71 schools currently meeting those requirements, according to the educators. Many but not all of the schools are in the state's big-city districts.

Taft spokesman Mark Rickel declined to comment. "Everything will be rolled out tomorrow," he said.

Taft made a brief mention of the plan in his State of the State speech Tuesday. He said his budget "will include new choices for students trapped in persistently failing schools."

Effect on public schools

The plan will further hurt traditional public schools by taking away needed resources, said Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

"There are proven approaches to turning around low-performing schools and it makes a lot more sense to improve the schools that kids now attend rather than move kids around, and rather than drain public schools of funds they need to deliver results and get better," Mooney said.

The Cleveland program was created in 1996 in response to high failure rates among schoolchildren there. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the program constitutional in 2002.

The court's 5-4 decision allowed taxpayer money to underwrite tuition at private or parochial schools if parents retain a wide choice of where to send their children.

Subsidies

The program gives parents, most of them poor, a tuition subsidy of up to $2,250 per child. There were more than 4,500 pupils in the Cleveland program last year.

House Speaker Jon Husted, a proponent of school options such as charter schools, said lawmakers will review all areas of education in the budget.

Lawmakers will look "at all aspects of education, not just vouchers, not just charter schools, not just the traditional program," Husted, a suburban Dayton Republican, said Wednesday.

"What do we know that is working. What do we know that people want. Are we providing the menus of options that parents and families want to have?"

Taft's education budget proposal also will include increases in the state's overall education spending of 2.7 percent next year and 2.3 percent the following year, educators briefed on the plan said. The state is spending about $7.3 billion on schools this year.




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