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Universal school voucher bill could cost Ohio more than $1 billion

School districts like Hilliard have implemented iPads in the classroom.
Columbus Neighborhoods

It’s estimated a bill to provide school vouchers to any student who wants them will cost the state of Ohio more than a billion dollars. That estimate on the so-called Backpack Bill comes from the nonpartisan researchers who analyze bills for state lawmakers.

The Legislative Service Commission fiscal note said under House Bill 11, expenditures would increase $1.13 billion in the first year if all 185,400 students already paying for private schools, for nonchartered nonpublic schools and those being homeschooled ask for vouchers.

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) put the backpack bill on his priority list, and said in an interview for "The State of Ohio" last month he thinks the universal voucher idea deserves consideration.

“I think there's a lot of questions that need to be, you know, that I'm sure. And the folks who are advocating for the Backpack Bill deserve the ability to say, here's the answers and here's where the numbers are," Stephens said.

The "Backpack Bill" was proposed as HB 290 in 2021, in the last General Assembly. But even though it had support from the influential Center for Christian Virtue, it only got one hearing, and there was never a fiscal analysis done of the proposal.

The "Backpack Bill" is also on the priority list of Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Township), who claims to lead the Ohio House Republican caucus. Merrin got more Republican votes for speaker than Stephens did, but Stephens has said as the speaker, he leads the caucus.

The LSC analysis said "it is likely that not all of these students will receive a Backpack scholarship for various reasons, meaning that the bill’s actual costs will likely be lower than the $1.13 billion estimate especially in the early years of the program." The analysis adds that cost would drop by $11.3 million for every 1% of students who don’t take vouchers.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.