Education Choice program could cost districts thousands


By Scott Halasz - shalasz@aimmediamidwest.com



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Editor’s Note: This is the second of two stories regarding the Ohio Education Choice Program.

XENIA — Public schools in Greene County may have to dip into their general funds to help cover student costs due to the expanding Educational Choice Scholarship (EdChoice) Program.

The program — launched in 2006 — provides up to 60,000 scholarships to students from under-performing public schools so they can attend participating private schools. It also provides low-income students who are entering kindergarten through sixth grade the same opportunity.

The number of individual schools where students are eligible to leave via EdChoice (also known as the voucher program) will jump from 487 this year to 1,233 next fall — more than one-third of all Ohio public schools. In all, 426 of Ohio’s 610 districts will have at least one building on the list including all Greene County districts except Bellbrook-Sugarcreek.

Schools are placed on the EdChoice eligibility list if they fail to meet any of the six performance markers tied to state report card for schools including performance index, graduation rate, and K-3 literacy.

The voucher amount is currently $4,650 per year for students in grades K-8 and $6,000 for high school students. While the money comes from the state, that amount is deducted from the funding the public school district receives.

“It’s not a flow through,” Greeneview Superintendent Isaac Seevers said. “It’s not like we get $6,000 and we pay $6,000. These are coming out of districts’ payments.”

Greeneview Middle and High schools are on the list for the first time as are Cedarville Elementary and Beavercreek High School. Other schools include Cox, McKinley, and Shawnee elementary schools and Warner Middle School in Xenia, as well as Xenia High School. Fairborn High and Primary schools and Mills Lawn Elementary in Yellow Springs are also listed.

Cedar Cliff schools receive $4,794 per student and spends at least that much per student, Superintendent Chad Mason said. Xenia receives approximately $4,800 per student, while Greeneview receives $2,227. If a student decides to go to a private school, Greeneview would lose that money plus an additional $3,800 in state funding to cover the voucher cost.

That leaves a shortage of funds to spend on students. According to the latest report card data from the ODE, Greeneview spends $9,181 per student.

“We’re going to be covering the cost of this,” Seevers said. “Our local taxpayers for the most part.”

Beavercreek loses more than $3 million annually to private and charter schools —$1.2 million of local revenue and $1.8 million of state funding, according to Superintendent Paul Otten. His district receives $2,990 per student and spends more than $9,800 per pupil.

It’s mainly because of results of state testing, which private schools aren’t required to administer. Most school leaders agree that if private schools continue to receive public money they should be held to the same standards as public schools.

“In my opinion, this is a concentrated effort to funnel state dollars to private schools,” Mason said. “There are some private schools that now receive millions in tax dollars from local school districts, based on test results that are not even given anymore. If those private schools are going to willingly take millions of dollars then they should follow the same rules, give the same tests, provide the same services to all students and be governed by the same policies that govern public schools and stop hiding behind the private label. Then, and only then, can we get a fair comparison between those schools and public schools. What guarantees does the state have the child is moving to a better situation if there is no measure in place to compare the end result? I would stack my students up against any students anywhere and from any private school.”

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a reform think tank which promotes educational education for every child, supports the voucher program and the choice it gives families.

Ohio Research Director Aaron Churchill said, “fundamentally and on principal (Fordham) thinks the money is being used to educate kids and is not the ownership of a district.”

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By Scott Halasz

shalasz@aimmediamidwest.com

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.