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School Voucher Battle Pits Top Ohio Lawmakers Against Each Other

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (left) and Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof (right)
Associated Press
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (left) and Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof each have different plans to change the way school vouchers are awarded in Ohio.

With just hours to go before families could submit applications for the state’s EdChoice private school voucher program on February 1, lawmakers delayed that window until April 1 to work out a compromise. The leaders in both Republican-controlled chambers are holding fast to their different proposals.

The Ohio Senate’s plan would make 420 school buildings eligible for EdChoice, and would increase income-based vouchers to 300% of the federal poverty level, which is $78,000 for a family of four.

Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said his chamber’s plan was on point and on time.

“For the specific problem that that should have been dealt with by February 1st, we had a solution for that. We passed it in time for that," Obhof said.

However Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) wants the House’s plan passed, which after next school year replaces EdChoice with all income-based vouchers at 250% of poverty.

“I think there'll be a number of senators that probably may quietly, just quietly agree with us. This is the fix. It's the right way to go. It's the right thing to do," Householder said while speaking to reporters after House session late Wednesday night, when they passed that plan.

So far, the Senate hasn't voted on the House-passed plan. Obhof said on Thursday it hadn't been sent over from the Senate, even though he notes it passed with an emergency clause. And a spokesman suggests there are concerns about some of the amendments in that proposal, which were unvetted and added without hearings.

If lawmakers can’t agree, the number of EdChoice eligible buildings will balloon to 1,227 on April 1.

Householder has been vocal in his support for his chamber's proposal, talking about it on Twitter.

Obhof hasn't mentioned his chamber's EdChoice plan on Twitter, but his spokesman John Fortney has defended it.

School groups have been supportive of Householder's plan, largely because income-based vouchers are paid by the state, and not by school districts as EdChoice vouchers are.

There has been widespread agreement that the state's criteria for determining failing schools needs to be examined. Several lawmakers and Gov. Mike DeWine have said the A-F state school report card system instituted in 2012 is likely to be scrapped.

But a group representing businesses and higher-performing districts is saying it has supporters. Ohio Excels said its poll of public school parents shows support for the A-F grading system as easy to understand and an appropriate way to rate schools.