Second conference committee to be formed on EdChoice issues

State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima. Photo from the Ohio Channel.

The Ohio Senate rejected a House overhaul of the state’s private school voucher program Wednesday, sending yet another bill related to EdChoice to a conference committee.

Senate Bill 89 was up for consideration at the Senate’s session Wednesday night, but several senators spoke out against the amendments made, ultimately voting down the emergency clause of the bill and sending the bill to a committee with members of both chambers.

Many of the senators voting against agreeing to the House’s amendments had their sights set on House Bill 9, the Senate’s original EdChoice fix bill. The House Bill is already in conference committee, and is scheduled to remain there through at least the weekend.

“I would suggest rejecting these choices because of the radical changes… but also because there is a separate process now moving under House Bill 9,” said Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima.

Only seven senators voted to keep the bill on the floor. Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, has been a resolute critic of the entire voucher program, and renewed a push to comprehensively change the system, including the metrics that decide which schools are eligible for vouchers.

“Ohio’s report card system is broken, and it can’t be fixed,” Fedor said. “We must burn it down and rebuild.”

She and Huffman got into a back-and-forth amid the discussion of SB 89, making separate arguments as to whether Ohio is obligated (or even allowed) to fund private religious schools. Fedor said the state’s constitution did not support school funding being set aside for religious purposes, Huffman sought to dispel that “myth.”

“We don’t have an option as to whether we’re going to fund religious education … we have a duty to fund it,” Huffman said.

Some said the legislature’s focus during the EdChoice debates has been in the wrong place, namely, in fixing the voucher system rather than the schools considered “failing” in EdChoice performance ratings.

“It’s our responsibility to say, ‘Let’s fix this school so it won’t be a failing school,’” said Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Avondale. “We should discuss fixing our school system, and not kicking this can down the road.”

The Ohio Federation of Teachers released a statement immediately following the vote expressing their disappointment in the lack of support for the amendments. OFT President Melissa Cropper called SB 89 “the best option on the table to address the urgent problem of the looming EdChoice voucher expansion.”

Representatives from several school districts around the state, along with the Ohio School Board Association and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, met Tuesday at the Statehouse to show their support for SB 89 and the end of EdChoice.

Dr. Kadee Anstadt, superintendent of Washington Local Schools in Lucas County, said her district stands to lose $750,000 because of the voucher system as it stands. 

“No voter in my district voted for that money to be siphoned to private schools,” Anstadt said.

The OFT plans to organize and engage with legislators as the conference committees continue, according to its statement.