EdChoice among legislation up in the air as Statehouse work paused

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The April 1 deadline looms for the Ohio legislature to decide on a plan for the state’s private school voucher program. The telework policies and lack of personnel in the Statehouse may throw a wrench in that timeline.

The EdChoice deadline was moved back once before so that lawmakers could debate the best plan of action on the voucher program that allows students in low-performing schools based on state report cards to attend private schools.

The program is currently paid for through school district budgets, but school leaders and some legislators have said this takes necessary resources away from school districts, making them further at risk to underperform.

With COVID-19 causing the House and Senate to send personnel home and the House deciding not to hold sessions or committee hearings for the time being, the governing body has no way of considering any legislation or voting on it. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus, which has been declared a pandemic.

The Ohio Revised Code states that any action of a general assembly committee is invalid “unless taken in an open meeting of the committee.”

Legislators are also asking that state mandated testing be put on hold for the year in Ohio’s public schools.

In a joint statement, state Rep. Jeffrey A. Crossman, D-Parma, and state Rep. Lisa Sobecki, D-Toledo, asked Gov. Mike DeWine and State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria to cancel the testing for the academic year. Schools have been closed due to the risk of COVID-19 in the state.

“We have to make sure kids are matriculating to the next level and not focusing on these tests,” Crossman told the Capital Journal.

Crossman said he’s spoken to House Speaker Larry Householder about the issue and he “seems supportive of it.”

In media interviews, DeWine said it wouldn’t surprise him to see Ohio schools closed through the end of the academic year.

On the subject of EdChoice, Crossman said the worldwide pandemic couldn’t have been anticipated when the House decided to extend the deadline, but when he supported it, “it was represented that we were days away from a resolution.”

“It shows you what can happen when you don’t get stuff done in a timely manner,” Crossman said.

The House has now been called back into session to decide on an election date, but neither Householder nor Obhof have commented on legislation deadlines.

The Ohio Senate is set to meet for sessions on March 25 and March 31, but instituted a “remote, telework policy” until April 6.

Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.