EDUCATION Ohio plans to triple its voucher program

The state's program will be the largest of its kind in the nation.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Ohio will more than triple the size of its school voucher program, making it the nation's largest project and the first successful implementation since the practice of using public money for private school tuition was found constitutional three years ago.
The tuition aid, which has been available only in Cleveland since 1996, will open private school doors to 14,000 additional pupils at struggling schools statewide beginning next year.
"This is a commitment that needed to be made, providing Ohio parents and children with more choices in education," said Karen Tabor, spokeswoman for House Speaker Jon Husted.
Supporters of school choice have worked to set up and expand programs since 2002, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Cleveland's program -- which includes religious schools -- does not violate the separation of church and state. Measures in seven states failed this year.
In Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada and Texas, lawmakers defeated startup voucher programs or left sessions with the bills stalled. An expansion in Wisconsin and a new program in Arizona were vetoed.
In Ohio, however, Gov. Bob Taft's proposal to provide vouchers to 2,600 pupils was not expansive enough for the Republican-controlled House or Senate. The state's $51 billion budget that Taft signed Thursday includes the funding for 14,000 children. The state will pay $4,250 for pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade and $5,000 for high schoolers.
Cleveland's program will continue, bringing the total of possible voucher pupils to nearly 20,000.
Other states
Only Florida and Wisconsin offer voucher programs similar to Ohio's. Both were founded under Republican governors.
The Milwaukee School Choice Program, which serves more than 14,000 pupils, began 15 years ago. Democrat Jim Doyle, now Wisconsin's governor, has vetoed three attempts to lift or raise its enrollment cap.
Sheila Haygood said her two youngest daughters, 8 and 10, were in public school classrooms in Milwaukee with as many as 30 other pupils before they moved to Eastbrook Academy four years ago. Now they have classes half that size and tutors available before and after school, Haygood said.
"The difference is that these are dedicated teachers that are spending the time to help these kids see their weaknesses and help them grow," she said.
The issue of using taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition, particularly at religious institutions, is a contentious one. Research is just as divided over whether voucher pupils get a better education.
Backers say vouchers offer options to pupils at poorly performing schools. Opponents say the practice diverts funding from schools that need it most.

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