EdChoice frozen in Ohio omnibus coronavirus bill

Stock image from Pixabay.

The fight over private school vouchers is yet again on hold, this time to clear the way for the state’s coronavirus response.

As part of the omnibus bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday morning and the House that afternoon, the expansion of the EdChoice scholarship program will be frozen while the coronavirus causes the need for the redistribution of state dollars.

The bill will keep the EdChoice eligible buildings at 2019-2020 academic year levels, and would also allow siblings of current scholarship recipients, incoming kindergarten students and rising high school students to receive performance-based scholarships for the next school year if their current building or potential building meets the EdChoice criteria.

After the Ohio House agreed to the Senate’s bill, Speaker Larry Householder said freezing the eligibility had previously been an option the House had debated.

“We’re comfortable with where we landed on vouchers,” Householder said.

The legislature also chose to waive state testing and report cards for the 2019-2020 school year, permitting seniors to graduate “if the school determines (the student is) on track to do so prior to the COVID-19 emergency,” according to a summary released by the Ohio Senate after they passed the bill.

“When you look at the report cards, it’s just an unfair situation to try to determine how well a school has done or not done with its students when you’re under this situation,” Householder said.

Householder said impact to local revenue streams is anticipated that will impact the school districts, but the legislature would “continue working hard in trying to resolve this.”

The Ohio Federation of Teachers, who had previously supported the House version of an EdChoice fix called the freeze “a temporary reprieve at best,” and said it did not fix the problem of funds being taken from public school districts and being given to private schools.

Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, confirmed that the funding model would stay the same under the omnibus bill, and monies for the EdChoice program would come from school district coffers.

OFT President Melissa Cropper said total voucher recipients would most likely increase even with the freezing.

“School districts like Cleveland Heights-University Heights will continue to be disproportionately affected and will continue to suffer budget shortfalls,” Cropper said in a statement.