Senate left waiting as transfer of House EdChoice overhaul delayed

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Senate legislators plan not to concur with the House version of a bill that would overhaul EdChoice in favor of an income-based scholarship program.

After two different Senate sessions, one Wednesday evening and another Thursday morning, the chamber had not received the House version of Senate Bill 89, which it had passed 87-7 on Wednesday afternoon.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, the Senate still had not received a copy of the bill, according to a spokesperson for the chamber.

The amended version of Senate Bill 89 was constructed by the House’s Primary and Secondary Education Committee the same day it was passed by the House.

State Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, explained the major changes to the bill during the committee, and again at the House’s session that evening.

“The bill before you today is the first step in a major overhaul for the education system in Ohio,” Jones said.

Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship

The original bill regarded joint vocational schools primarily, but with the new amendments, it eliminates EdChoice vouchers in the 2021 school year, and replaces them with a new scholarship fund, paid for by the state. 

The Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship would be based on a household’s financial situation, rather than the performance of the schools, as in the EdChoice voucher system.

“The scholarship will be based on income, with top priority given to students from low-income families,” Jones said in the committee’s hearing.

With the bill, anyone within two-and-a-half times the federal poverty level would be eligible for a full scholarship. Those already a part of the EdChoice system would be allowed to keep their scholarships and continue under the Buckeye Opportunity program.

An amendment added to the bill during the floor session eliminates academic distress commissions until at least 2024. The amendment only applies to three school districts — Youngstown, East Cleveland, and Lorain — but those in favor said removing those commissions would bring the control back to those districts.

“I haven’t heard anyone…claim that we can improve our schools without getting buy-in from our communities,” said state Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst. “Ohio has three school districts that the state has unjustly put under their control, and that must end.”

The House’s overhaul of EdChoice also institutes studies by the Ohio Department of Education regarding economically disadvantaged students and a study of special education programs around the state. 

Jones said a State Educational Assessment Study Committee would be formed as part of the proposal. That committee would be set up to evaluate federal and state testing requirements, end of course exams and assessment score ranges, the measures used to determine state report card letter grades, and any waivers the state may seek regarding federal testing requirements.

A report from the committee would be due by Oct. 1 of this year.

Hold Up in the Senate

The House passed the bill with an emergency clause, meaning the bill would take effect as soon as the Governor signed it. 

The legislature has until April 1 to agree on a plan for the private school voucher program, after it pushed back the EdChoice application deadline date from Feb. 1. 

The Senate was prepared to take up the bill Wednesday night, but according to state Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, the bill was not sent over by the chamber’s clerk, as is typically done when the House passes a bill for review to the Senate. 

Before adjourning for the day, House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said the chamber would not meet Thursday due to forecasted winter weather. 

Without a bill to review, the Senate adjourned without voting,but when they returned Thursday morning, they still didn’t have a bill. 

A spokesperson for the Senate said the governing body was leaning toward non-concurrence because some of the amendments added don’t deal with EdChoice and have not received any hearings.

The next scheduled session for the Senate is Feb. 12.