By Jordan Cohen
The superintendent of Niles schools warns that a bill before the Ohio House of Representatives authorizing the use of public-school funds to pay for student vouchers to private and parochial schools could be a disaster for the financially strapped district if it becomes law.
“They want to take money that voters in Niles approved for our district and use it to pay for kids to go to other parochial and private schools,” said schools Superintendent Mark Robinson. “I have a real concern about the constitutionality and what this could do to our district.”
House Bill 136, referred to as the School Choice Bill, would award scholarships of $2,300 to $4,600 to students attending Ohio public schools who want to transfer to private or religious institutions.
Families with annual incomes of up to $95,000 would be eligible for the scholarships. So would students who already are enrolled in private or religious schools.
The money would be taken from public-school funding, much of which is raised through operating levies.
The bill recently was approved in a committee by a narrow margin. It has not yet been scheduled for a floor vote.
District Treasurer Linda Molinaro released a five-year plan earlier this month that forecasts sizable deficits exacerbated by an anticipated loss of $959,000 in revenue in the 2012 fiscal year.
The treasurer attributes the projected loss to state funding cuts and declining property-tax collections.
Marlene Rhodes, school- board president, said diverting even more local funds for students to attend nonpublic schools will make things worse.
“The bill would give these [private and parochial] schools tax dollars voters approved for public schools,” Rhodes said. “This really is an example of taxation without representation.”
The board has joined a number of other school districts in passing a resolution opposing the School Choice Bill. Robinson said the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, of which he is a board member, is encouraging the Legislature to reject it.