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Ohio House Speaker Wants Shift To All Income-Based School Vouchers

Licking Heights High School freshmen take notes in a World History class taught by Amy Obhof..
Andy Chow
Ohio Public Radio

Talks on a deal to stop a huge increase in the number of Ohio public school buildings where students would qualify for private school vouchers are dragging on. Now the House Speaker is proposing a major overhaul of the voucher system.

There are just days to go before the voucher application process opens. After Wednesday's conference committee session, House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) issued a statement describing a proposal Republicans in his chamber have offered, replacing the EdChoice performance-based voucher system with an all income-based voucher program.

The House rejected a Senate deal that reduces EdChoice voucher eligible buildings from 1,227 to 420 buildings, but increases income-based vouchers to 300% of the federal poverty level, which is $78,000 a year for a family of four.

Householder is a voucher supporter, and he's hinted there's room to move on those income-based vouchers.

“You know, there’s always a compromise," Householder said. "What we’re looking for is what puts the schoolchildren in the state of Ohio, whether they are attending a public school or not, what puts them in the best position to get a good education in this state."

In his statement, Householder said:

"The House has laid out a simple, straight-forward plan that would replace Ohio’s current building performance-based EdChoice voucher with an opportunity scholarship that would be entirely poverty-based. It would allow schools – public and private – to compete more fairly. These Opportunity Scholarships would be funded directly and entirely by the state, instead of being deducted from state aid paid to local districts, as is currently the case with the performance-based EdChoice voucher. This approach has a lot less impact on local school districts and puts the focus where it belongs: For a more equal opportunity for all of Ohio’s 1.8 million school kids, regardless of their ZIP Code.”

State Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), who came up with the EdChoice amendment, said on the Senate floor late Tuesday that increasing the income-based vouchers to 300% of the federal poverty level will help some families that are in schools that are now not on the EdChoice list. An earlier proposal from Dolan had income-based vouchers at 250% of the federal poverty level.

A bill proposed in the last General Assembly by state Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) would merge the performance-based vouchers into a single program and increase vouchers to 400% of the federal poverty level, which is $105,000 for a family of four.

Another sticking point for Householder is that he thinks schools which were having problems meeting the K-3 literacy requirements should be exempted.

“K-3 should not have been involved in a determinant for what schools would be on there. That would have limited us down to about 188 buildings statewide that would be affected," Householder said.

There were around 29,500 students using EdChoice vouchers this year. The EdChoice application process for the 2020-2021 school year opens on Saturday, February 1.

Householder said he’s confident a deal will be done well before the EdChoice application window opens Saturday. However lawmakers also want a new method to determine if a school is failing and therefore EdChoice eligible. For many, that includes scrapping the A-F school building grading system implemented in 2012 under former Gov. John Kasich.

A spokesman for Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) issued a statement: “We remain confident that common ground can be found through the conference committee talks that both clarifies and advances the mission of the Ed Choice program.”