EdChoice debate: Private schools a beneficial option, students and administrators say

Parent Chantel Williams.

Students and parents from Ohio’s private schools stayed up past their bedtimes in some cases to put their two cents in about the state private school voucher program’s fate.

At conference committee hearings to decide on one particular proposal for EdChoice, private school advocates argued the workforce waiting for their students and the competitive nature of modern education warrants a better system than the school report cards say Ohio has.

The important element to any education, both private school and public school supporters agreed, is helping students flourish.

“The heart of Ohio’s school choice system is that parents have the option to find the best-fit school for their child,” said Dr. April Domine, Head of School at Gahanna Christian Academy.

Domine said the school risks closure if the voucher program goes away, and families who have already applied are hanging in the balance as the legislature withholds a decision on the EdChoice program. 

She said “fast, mid-year sweeping changes” would be beneficial to the students.

“Without EdChoice, these families face enormous decisions like potentially selling their homes and moving out of communities that they are invested in, because they desire a different educational experience for their child.”

Some students attended the hearing to give their perspective on the private school experience. Fatiha Ali, of Lake Catholic High School, went to public schools before 2013, and said she noticed the difference immediately.

“The educational foundation I received from the private schools has been phenomenal,” Ali, a future University of Dayton student, told the committee. “Attending a private school has given me more opportunity than I was ever offered while attending a public school.”

Brailyn Morrow still has a few years before she goes off to college, but the 10-year-old Toledo resident said she already hopes to attend Ohio State University. She said the voucher program has been a “blessing” for her after attending charter schools.

“I’m with people who are excited to learn about God,” Morrow said. “My teacher has more time for me than I’ve ever had.”

Brailyn’s mother, Chantel Williams, said the faith-filled education and a “safe and profound environment” were important to her for her children. She said a smaller class size and “like-minded village” was necessary for Brailyn’s education.

“My daughter’s prayer life has strengthened, my once-before unmotivated kiddo has now found a new passion for life and for her faith,” Williams said.

Williams said Brailyn “lost hope” as part of a larger-sized classroom, which Williams said has not been an issue in private school.

The committee ended their hearings last week without coming to a decision on House Bill 9, which was amended to include the Senate proposal for EdChoice.

Another bill, Senate Bill 89, includes the House version of the program, an overhaul that would replace EdChoice with the income-based, directly-state-funded model called the Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship. The Ohio Federation of Teachers and the Ohio Education Association have both come out in favor of the House’s overhaul of the program.

At the end of the hearings, committee chairman state Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, was asked about next steps, and he said more reflection was needed on the more than 50 hours of testimony presented.

“We’re going to adjourn, I think we need to let our minds have a little time to become unwarped and we’ll go from there,” Jones said.

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford and Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, were set to meet with Gov. Mike DeWine this week on the topic of EdChoice. The legislature has until April 1 to agree to a proposal for the governor’s signature.