By Denise Dick
Officials in many area school districts contend an Ohio House bill would further erode public- school finances.
Several school districts have passed resolutions opposing Ohio House Bill 136, which would expand the state voucher program.
The bill, sponsored by Lima Republican Matt Huffman, would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Saving Scholarship, granting scholarships, or vouchers, to attend nonpublic schools.
Unlike the existing EdChoice program, which allows a limited number of low-income students from poor performing districts to secure vouchers for a private school education, there’s no requirement in H.B. 136 regarding a home district’s academic performance.
Even students from districts designated excellent or excellent with distinction could request vouchers.
A family in Ohio with an annual income up to $95,000 could qualify.
“I believe it’s part of the attack on public education by the same party that holds all the power in Ohio right now,” said Roger Samuelson, president of the Champion school board.
The board of Trumbull County Career and Technical Center, of which Samuelson also is a member, passed a resolution last week opposing the bill.
He acknowledges that parents have the right to send their children to certain schools if they so choose, but he isn’t sure it’s appropriate for taxpayers to foot the bill.
The Youngstown school board also passed a resolution last week opposing HB 136.
Superintendent Connie Hathorn said it’s important to note that while students can request to attend nonpublic schools, those schools don’t have to accept them. That could affect special-education students in particular as smaller schools may not have the programs and personnel to address their needs, he said.
Public schools accept all children.
According to Youngstown’s resolution, under the bill, about $5,800 would be deducted from a school district’s state aid for each student who receives a voucher.
Sarah Pechan, director of community programs at School Choice Ohio in Columbus, said the organization supports the bill because it believes families should be able to send their children to the school of their choice.
“We hear from families that they’re not getting the education they need to help their children thrive,” she said. “They feel stuck and they’re desperate.”
Families of means already can send their children to the schools of their choice, she said. They can send them to private schools or move into a different school district, Pechan said.
“It’s families of lower means who are stuck,” she said.
HB 136’s voucher expansion would open a new door for those families, Pechan said.
Austintown Superintendent Vince Colaluca has no problem with competition if it’s a level playing field, but he says it isn’t.
“The playing field is not even,” he said. “If nonpublic or private schools don’t like a child, guess where they send them back to? The public school they came from.”
Colaluca also doesn’t believe taxpayers voting on school issues expect their tax dollars to fund other schools.
“They talk about how Ohio schools are struggling, but have they looked at public schools in Mahoning County?” he said. “We have 15 school districts that are unbelievable and one that is struggling academically.”
That trend is similar statewide, the superintendent said.
The legislation also would allow students from a particular school district already attending a private school to apply for the vouchers.
In Austintown, the 315 students who attend nonpublic schools could request vouchers and the amount would be deducted from Austintown’s state aid. The district doesn’t receive any state aid for those students, Colaluca said, and he questions whether public districts will receive any funding to make up the difference.
Diana DeVito, president of Liberty school board, expects that district to pass a resolution opposing HB 136 at its next meeting.
“It’s another question of whatever money the state takes away, who do you think makes it up?” she said. “It’s made up by the community. I’m personally very opposed.”
She’s also concerned about the number of students in the district who already attend private schools applying for the vouchers if the legislation passes.
“In a matter of the last year, the Legislature has done things and passed things that have been to the detriment of public schools,” DeVito said. “The framers of the Ohio Constitution said that the education of the children of a community is the responsibility of the community.”
She doesn’t believe tax dollars should subsidize private schools.
Recent changes in public education have been at the expense of parents who are sending their children to public schools, DeVito said.
“To me it’s just an obscenity or a corruption of what the framers of the Ohio Constitution intended,” she said. “If you want to behoove yourself of education at a private school you need to foot the bill, not the taxpayers of Ohio.”