The House’s version of Ohio’s operating budget gets rid of Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed state-wide merit scholarships and cuts back on the funding DeWine originally proposed to a grant program that helps students who have the highest level of financial need.
The Ohio House recently approved their version of the budget after DeWine introduced his proposed budget earlier this year. Now, the budget is in the hands of the Senate. The budget must be signed by June 30 for it to take effect on July 1, the first day of the new state fiscal year.
The Ohio Department of Higher Education, which serves more than 635,000 students, has a proposed budget of $2.8 billion for fiscal year 2024 and $2.9 billion for fiscal year 2025.
Ohio College Opportunity Grant
The House’s version of the budget gives less money to Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG) than DeWine gave the grant program in his original proposed budget. OCOG gives grant money to Ohio residents who have the highest level of financial need, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
“OCOG helps financially challenged students to cover those academic costs that the federal Pell Grant does not,” said President of Inter-University Council Laura Lanese said during her testimony in front of the Senate Workforce and Higher Education committee.
The governor’s budget appropriated $216.2 million in fiscal year 2024 and $346.1 million in fiscal year 2025 for OCOG. By contrast, the Ohio House’s budget reduces the appropriations to $140.0 million in fiscal year 2024 and $175.0 million in fiscal year 2025.
The Inter-University Council wants OCOG funding to go back up to what DeWine originally proposed.
“The proposed budget for financial aid has the potential to reach into the middle class for the first time ever,” Lanese said. “Unfortunately, the funding levels in the budget passed by the House will not allow this laudable goal to be realized as the entire program is underfunded.”
The budget increases the income eligibility threshold of expected family income for an OCOG award from $2,190 or less to $10,000 or less — equating to an average household adjusted gross income of approximately $87,000, Lanese said.
Public and non-profit college students who have OCOG awards currently receive $2,700 and $4,200 respectively and the proposed budget would bump up the amount of funding those students receive.
An OCOG award for a student who first enrolls in the 2023-24 academic year annually would be $4,000 per student at a state university main campus, $5,000 per student at a private nonprofit college or university, and $1,600 per student at a private for-profit career college.
An OCOG award amount for a student who first enrolls in the 2024-25 academic year and any after annually would be $6,000 per student at a state university main campus, $6,000 per student at a private nonprofit college or university, and $1,600 per student at a private for-profit career college.
However, the proposed budget would require the Chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education to determine if reductions in OCOG award amounts are necessary.
Students attending a private for-profit career colleges who have OCOG awards currently receive $1,600 and that dollar amount currently stays flat in the budget — something the Ohio-Michigan Association of Career Colleges and Schools (OMACCS) wants to see changed.
“As established adults, our students are supporting families and paying rent or a mortgage, a car loan, and childcare,” said OMACCS Executive Director Kent Trofholz. “These grant amounts benefit the students directly.”
Merit based scholarships
The Ohio House removed a provision from DeWine’s budget that recommended giving $5,000 per year scholarships to all Ohio high school students who graduate in the top 5% of their school’s class if they attend an in-state school.
The merit scholarships would have cost $18 million for fiscal year 2024 and $34.2 million for fiscal year 2025, according to DeWine’s proposed budget.
A handful of people voiced at recent Senate Workforce and Higher Education committee meetings they want the merit based scholarships back in the budget.
“The merit based scholarship, I think, is critically important,” said state Sen. Kent Smith, D-Euclid. “If Ohio is going to keep its best and brightest, let’s make it easier for them to go to college here. I think it’s incredibly logical.”
He said the argument he hears against merit based scholarships is that the top 5% in schools across the state are already getting scholarships, so he asked those who testified to refute that argument.
It’s likely students who are from upper class families and in their class’s top 5% are already getting scholarships, said C. Todd Jones, President and General Counsel of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio (AICUO).
“For those students, it’s about retention,” Jones said. “How do you keep them in Ohio?”
However, he said students of lower income and even middle class families — especially in smaller districts, urban areas or rural parts of the state — might not be getting other scholarships.
“(A merit based scholarship) will make the difference between go and no for those families,” he said.
Teacher Training Program
The Ohio House budget establishes metrics to make sure each educator training program aligns with the science of reading, which is based on decades of research that shows how the human brain learns to read. It incorporates phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
A change in the Ohio House budget requires the ODHE Chancellor to develop an audit process that records how each educator training program is aligned with teaching the science of reading instruction.
The budget would require the Chancellor to revoke the approval of educator training programs that are not aligned with teaching the science of reading instruction within one year of the initial audit. All programs would be reviewed every four years after the first audit.
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