Ohio Senate committee passes dropout recovery funding

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A bill originally written to create school violence prevention groups will now also bring temporary financial relief to dropout recovery and prevention e-schools if passed.

The Senate Education Committee spent its last meeting before a summer break passing House Bill 123 with an added amendment supported by the governor.

The bill was created to require local school districts to designate a student-led violence prevention club for each school building serving grades 6 through 12, but after amendment, the bill will “permit” but not require those clubs. 

The major amendment added to the bill in its seventh hearing, in which it was also passed on for a full Senate vote, creates a temporary funding formula for e-schools who are also a part of the state’s dropout prevention and recovery program. The funding would be specifically for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Education Committee vice-chair state Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, said Warren County’s Greater Ohio Virtual School says coronavirus closures have left them to decide whether or not they can stay in business.

“If we don’t pass this, there’s a high probability that this school will go out of business, and this could also lead to the other dropout recovery e-schools going out of business,” Brenner told the committee.

The committee heard from the executive director of Fairborn Digital Academy, Eric Tritsch, who said the school might need to expand their class sizes if they don’t receive the funding they need. They serve nine school districts, including Dayton. Currently there is one staff member for every 20 students.

“That staff member gets to know students, their families, their situations, that helps us to re-engage students,” Tritsch said.

The funding would include $1,750 paid to schools at the beginning of the school year, to pay for computer, software, licensing and counseling related to the dropout recovery and prevention program. The other funding is calculated on the number of hours a student participates, and the number of courses completed by a student.

Committee chair, Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said the amended bill was on the fast-track with the support of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. 

“The governor has offered to put some money toward this,” Lehner said.

Lehner said that money would total $2.5 million, but didn’t specify the specific appropriation source for the money.  

Tritsch said the program is designed to only count students when they are actively participating within the software. In the bill, a school would only receive their share of the funding when a student successfully completes the work, as many as five course credits per year.

Currently, there are nine districts with dropout recovery programs in the state. 

Brenner said the bill needed to be passed with an emergency clause to get the funding to school districts before the school year begins, but acknowledged that with the House out for summer break, that may not be possible. 

“Even (if the House doesn’t return to pass the bill), I think it sends a signal to the schools that maybe they can use a Band-Aid and duct tape to keep afloat until they come back,” Brenner said.