School choice overhaul in Ohio promising, prioritizes accountability

Some major school choice initiatives are headed down the legislative pike, and, if enacted, they promise to help tens of thousands of Ohio kids who are low- and middle-income and who attend both public and private schools. Yesterday in a press conference, Ohio Representative Matt Huffman (R-Lima) unveiled a package of choice reforms that would ?change the system in a meaningful way for taxpayers and kids.? Huffman's plan, which will officially be introduced next week, includes:

  • Creation of a statewide, limitless voucher program. The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program would combine with the statewide EdChoice Scholarship program, and caps for both would be lifted.
  • Abandoning the ?failing school model? as a way to determine eligibility for vouchers; currently, EdChoice recipients must attend a public school that was deemed as failing for two of the last three consecutive years by the state to be eligible. The new voucher system would not ?divide communities? and make value judgments about school quality or pit schools against one another in a competitive fashion. Instead, eligibility would be income-based and would allow low- and middle-income families regardless of attendance area to receive a scholarship worth up to 80 percent of the state per-pupil funding amount ($5,783 currently).
  • A statewide scholarship for children with special needs. Currently, Ohio provides scholarships to students with autism but this program would enable all kids in grades K-12 with an IEP to be eligible.
  • Education ?savings accounts.? If a school's annual tuition is less than a student's scholarship amount, parents could roll the difference into a savings account that could be used to pay for not just private school but textbooks, or tuition and fees associated with postsecondary education at an Ohio college. (Creative way to keep high school students in state!)

According to School Choice Ohio,

Eligibility for vouchers would increase more than ten-fold. This is the most meaningful school choice proposal we have ever had in Ohio and is one of the most forward-thinking proposals in the whole country.

We agree that the proposed reforms are bold and exciting, not only because of their substance but because of the bipartisan political coalitions that are supporting it. At yesterday's press conference, Rep. Patmon (D-Cleveland), an African American Democrat, spoke in support of the plan. This is groundbreaking for Ohio, where issues of choice have tended to be incredibly political polarizing.?

The second pioneering piece of Huffman's proposal is that it incorporates strong accountability provisions that are absolutely vital to ensure quality education for all children. According to the press release, ?students [at voucher-receiving schools] must take the same state assessments that are required of public school students, and the Ohio Department of Education is required to collect and report assessment data in the same manner that is required of public schools.?

Upholding accountability in parallel with expanding school choice options is critical for these reforms to succeed in the long haul, maintain bipartisan support, and ultimately ensure that kids are receiving quality educational options. ?

-Jamie Davies O'Leary

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