Ohio House and Senate still in conflict on vouchers, conference committees scheduled

Ohio Senate Chambers
The Ohio Senate Chambers. File Photo

With the Ohio Senate still planning to reject an overhaul to the Educational Choice Scholarship program, a renewed push for a revised but still intact EdChoice has begun.

After the Senate was left without a bill to vote on last week because of administrative and technical issues, the fate of Senate Bill 89 is still up in the air.

Starting Tuesday, a conference committee with members of both chambers has daily committee meetings scheduled to take up House Bill 9 through the end of the week.

A staff member for committee chair, state Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, said they are “working under the assumption” that all the scheduled meetings (and possibly more) will be needed to settle on a compromise.

HB 9 had the Senate’s offerings on changing EdChoice and reducing the number of eligible schools in the program.

State Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, led the charge on the HB 9 amendments, and in a letter to all House and Senate members sent Friday, he continued to argue for a short-term solution that would set up the legislature to fix the education system as a whole, including the metrics that decide EdChoice eligibility.

“I am supporting an immediate solution closer to (House Bill 9) because it addresses the short
term problem we all want to fix, promises immediate clarity to families and schools while setting the
conditions for a long term debate of the future of the voucher system in Ohio,” Dolan wrote.

At the heart of the fight is a a debate over how to fix the education system, something House Speaker Larry Householder said can’t happen under the current scholarship program.

Householder has long felt that an income-based system would work better than the performance-based report cards that the state uses now. When asked about the situation on Twitter last week, he called the performance-based system a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“The State Grade Card games high concentrated poverty districts to fail and be voucher eligible,” Householder wrote. “Performance Based vouchers only exasperate the problem as local funds are then pulled from those districts to pay for vouchers providing less and less (money).”

The House’s version of the bill added multiple amendments that would effectively eliminate EdChoice in favor of an income-based system called the Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship.

Under that program, households at up to 250% of the federal poverty line would be eligible, with the families on the lowest end of the scale given priority. The scholarship amount remains the same as in the EdChoice program, and would be up to $4,650 for kindergarten through eighth-grade students, and $6,000 for high schoolers.

Legislators gave themselves until April 1 to decide on a new plan. Supporters of the private school vouchers promptly sued over the delay.

Last week the Senate planned not to concur with SB 89, and that plan has not been changed, according to Senate officials.

“Results count, and we look forward to finding a solution that continues our commitment of providing a quality education and options for Ohio families who are anxiously awaiting answers,” said John Fortney, press secretary for the Ohio Senate Majority Caucus.
The first conference committee session is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, with the next Senate and House sessions scheduled for Wednesday.