Voucher explosion would hurt many Ohio children

Ohio’s public schools are the foundation of our democracy. They create safe, welcoming environments where all students, regardless of where they’re from, what they look like, or how much money their parents make; receive high-quality education empowering them to become successful citizens in diverse, interconnected world. Over my 30-year career in public education, I’ve had a front-row seat to see my high school social studies students become lifelong learners who dream big and work hard to achieve dreams.

But never-ending schemes from some Ohio lawmakers to defund and weaken public schools serving 90 percent of Ohio’s children ultimately would make it much harder for students to get what they need to succeed.

All state education funding comes from a single pool of money, so exponentially increasing the amount of state money spent on private school tuition and other non-public options — as the so-called Backpack Bill aims to do — means exponentially less money in the state budget for public schools that serve nearly all of Ohio’s kids.

This latest scheme would explode state spending on private schools, charter schools and homeschooling operations to $1.2 billion each year, leaving $1.2 billion less in public money to fund Ohio’s public schools.

That’s not only morally wrong, but also a reckless investment decision. Voucher plans in Ohio have very little oversight. Private and charter schools are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools, so families can’t make informed apples-to-apples comparisons. Investigations into performance data show nearly 90 percent of all voucher students do worse on state tests than students in traditional public schools in the same zip codes. Throwing money at vouchers does not represent the panacea proponents claim it to be.

In fact, the one big thing voucher funding explosion does is benefit even more wealthy Ohioans who already were sending their kids to private schools, while lower- and middle-income Ohioans are left to pick up the tab. Even with voucher money, private school tuition is still too expensive for most families in our state, and expanding voucher eligibility requirements doesn’t change that fact.

Moreover, private schools simply won’t serve many Ohio families. They pick and choose who they accept, often opting not to provide supports or interventions required to serve students with different learning needs, like special education students or English language learners, which are inherently more expensive to provide. Suppose the “Backpack Bill” or other damaging legislation moves forward. Traditional public schools that continue to offer them, as required by state law, then face prospects of covering those costs with an even smaller share of the state’s education funding resources.

Rather than doling out scarce public resources to the few who choose not to attend local public schools, Ohio’s lawmakers must finish the work they started in the last state budget cycle to ensure all Ohio public schools have resources to meet every student’s individual needs. That’s exactly what the Fair School Funding Plan does. Partially adopted in Ohio’s FY ’22-’23 budget, that school funding formula reflects how much it costs to educate a child and how much a local community can afford to contribute toward that.

The millions of students who attend Ohio’s public schools can’t afford to go back to the unconstitutional school funding system that was the status quo for so long — something that is all but assured by the proposals that would decimate the state’s funding pool for public schools and further increase their reliance on local property tax dollars to operate.

And the millions of Ohio taxpayers who put their hard-earned money into Ohio’s coffers to provide a constitutionally required “thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state” can’t afford for state lawmakers to continue privatizing education for the sake of privatization on the public’s dime.

If we’re serious about every child’s future, let’s get serious about what works. We must come together to demand our state leaders invest our public money in public schools that are transparent and accountable, and that prepare all students for the future — no exceptions.

Scott DiMauro, a high school social studies teacher from Worthington, is in his second term as president of the Ohio Education Association.


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