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Amendment Would Freeze School Voucher Program List, Expand Income-Based Vouchers

A Hilliard schools student completes classroom work with an iPad.
Columbus Neighborhoods

State lawmakers are expected to vote on a compromise that could stop a huge increase in the number of Ohio public school buildings where students will be eligible for private school vouchers starting this weekend. If a change is made, it has to happen before the EdChoice voucher program starts accepting applications on Saturday.

The new amendment would freeze the EdChoice eligibility list, which stands at 517 buildings but would balloon to more than 1,200 without the change. Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) said schools that have met academic requirements can be removed, but no new schools will be added.

Dolan said the freeze would be in effect for two years, which he said will buy some time for corrections to be made to the overall system. As part of an overhaul, some lawmakers have suggested scrapping the A-F report card system.

Dolan said it’s a compromise with Republican leaders but is hoping for bipartisan support.

“There may be some suggestions that people will make that will allow them to vote for it. So it’s still a fluid process, but I would hope that we will continue to have discussions," said Dolan.

School groups say more than a hundred buildings will still be on the list though they’ve seen improvement.

The amendment also further expands income-based vouchers to families making up to 300% of the federal poverty level – over $77,000 a year for a family of four. Dolan's previous amendment would expand eligibility for those vouchers to 250% of the federal poverty level. Those vouchers are paid for by the state, not by school districts.

It was suggested at a press conference featuring a group of EdChoice voucher families that legal action could be possible if the EdChoice list isn't allowed to soar as expected. But Dolan said the bigger issue is that the state can't send a message that so many buildings are considered "failing."

“I think there will be families involved who will feel that fundamentally this is not fair to them based on what they thought was going to happen. But a fix needed to be done," Dolan said.

If no changes are made, 70% of Ohio's school districts will have a building where students will qualify for EdChoice vouchers.