How will an expansion of school vouchers impact Ohio public school funding? Answer is ‘speculative’
A high school student writing in her notepad. Getty Images.
As Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine wants to expand the state’s school voucher program, the future of fair funding for Ohio’s public schools has become a weighty topic.
State Rep. Tracy Richardson, R-Marysville and chair of the subcommittee on primary and secondary education committee, asked about that very thing Tuesday morning — how the proposed expansion to the EdChoice program would affect fair school funding.
“The answer is a little speculative,” said Thomas Hosler, Superintendent of Perrysburg Schools in Northwest Ohio. He is part of the fair school funding work group that has been working on this plan since November 2017.
DeWine wants to expand vouchers for K-12 private school tuition to more Ohio families by increasing the eligibility to 400% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
“The capacity for the state to pay for that program is going to draw significant resources to do that,” Hosler said. “That may or may not, and this is the speculative part, impact the resources that we are advocating for. That is one of the major crosses that the legislature will have to bear.”
He was one of three members of the fair school funding work group who gave public testimony for more than two hours Tuesday morning. The Fair Funding Model for Ohio’s Schools is part of House Bill 33, the legislation that would establish the state’s budget for fiscal year 2024 and 2025.
It is also not entirely clear how House Bill 1, which would flatten Ohio’s income tax to a single rate, would affect fair school funding.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty as to exactly how that will directly impact us,” Hosler said. “There are many different roads at that intersection. We have that delicate teeter-totter that we talked about between local shares and state shares.”
HB 1, which is currently in House committee, “would be a 500 pound weight on the one of the teeter-totter,” Hosler said.
“I’m exaggerating, but I think the unknown is going to tilt that in some way shape or form,” he said.
School transportation was also a lengthy topic of discussion Tuesday morning.
Andrea White, R-Kettering, talked about the challenges Dayton City Schools has encountered with school bus transportation — which, she said, has forced the district to use Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority to help bus students to and from school.
She said the situation in Dayton is just one example of urban school districts struggling with providing transportation to students.
“Why are we not giving the money to those community, charter and parochial schools directly as opposed to requiring particularly the urban schools who have an undue burden … why aren’t we giving it to them directly to get their kids to school on time?” White said.
But that responsibility falls to the public schools. Under Ohio law, school districts are required to provide transportation for charter and nonpublic school students if they live within the city school district’s boundaries and reside no more than 30 minutes from the school.
“Our expectation of the funding plan was not to modify other aspects and make policy changes,” said Michael Hanlon, Jr. Superintendent of Chardon Local Schools in Northeast Ohio.
Hosler said the original law that requires school districts to transport these students passed in 1965.
“If you think about what the demands of 1965 looked like,” he said. “Think about the parochial schools, which are neighborhood church schools that students walked to. You think about today with the explosion of charter schools and private schools, that law has really not kept up to date with requirements.”
Perrysburg only has eight schools in the district, but could potentially bus to 75 schools because of the law, he said. The district currently buses to 19 schools outside of district boundaries.
“I believe the time is right now to address these (school bus) issues because it is severely impacting attendance rates,” White said. “It’s crucial that kids get a pattern of coming to school and staying in school early on in their high school years, so we’ve got to solve this problem.”
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