Ohio's new threshold for voucher eligibility affects very few schools

With Ohio's biennial budget (HB 153) now in effect, we're still wrapping our brains around all of the implications of various provisions (recall that there were several hundred pages of education policy changes in the legislation).

We've already analyzed the budget in broad brush strokes, and concluded that much will depend on the quality of implementation and leadership from the department of education, new state superintendent, and from districts themselves. Now we're getting down to a more granular level; to keep the painting metaphor alive, we're now breaking out the tools and working in small dabs to figure out precisely how Ohio's schools, educators, and students will be affected.

The budget increased the number of slots available for the EdChoice scholarship (from 15,000 to 30,000 this year and 60,000 next year and beyond). EdChoice is a voucher program that allots stipends of $4,250 for K-8 students and $5,000 for high school students to attend private schools of their choice. Access to vouchers has always been limited to students attending chronically failing schools, specifically students in district public schools rated D or F by the state for two or more of the last three consecutive years. This year, lawmakers broadened that eligibility to include not just D/F schools, but school buildings ranked in the bottom 10 percent of performance (according to Performance Index, an average of students' proficiency in tested grades and subjects) for two of three consecutive years.

But, according to available data (see the Ohio Department of Education's list of eligible schools here), this is barely a drop in the bucket. Just 31 schools statewide enrolling a total of 8,700 students are newly eligible. To put this in perspective, this is less than one half of one percent of Ohio's public student population (1.9 million).

Below is the list of schools newly eligible to lose students to the voucher program (highlighted schools are those in Ohio's Big 8 districts). On average, these schools collectively have a student population that is 77 percent non-white and 81 percent economically disadvantaged, though as you can see, the range is pretty wide. Some schools have very few non-white or economically disadvantaged kids. (Note: Cleveland students are eligible for the Cleveland Opportunity Scholarship Program, not for EdChoice, which is why none of that district's low-performing schools are reflected here).

Public district schools newly eligible to lose students to EdChoice voucher program

??Source: Ohio Department of Education

In sum, broader eligibility for EdChoice will probably not drive up enrollment very much at all. What's more likely to affect enrollment, according to School Choice Ohio's Director of Community Programs Sarah Pechan, is timing. The department reopened enrollment for EdChoice after the budget's passage, and parents and families will now have until mid-August to apply for one of the many open slots. Having a wider time frame ? especially during the summer months when parents are weighing schooling options heavily ? will likely increase uptake. Seeing as how there's 15,000 new scholarships available, let's hope that Ohio families will capitalize on them.

Stay tuned for more granular analysis of Ohio's budget.

-Jamie Davies O'Leary

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