State budget impact: voucher and charter expansion
With Ohio’s biennial budget (HB 153) now in effect, it’s time to get into the details to figure out precisely how Ohio’s schools, educators, and students will be affected. Consider two education policy changes included in HB 153 that are aimed at providing more education options for students in low-performing district schools: increasing eligibility for the EdChoice Scholarship and expanding districts in which new charter schools may open.
Expanded voucher eligibility and access
HB 153 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. Access to publicly funded 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.
This expansion may seem broad, but it is actually just a drop in the bucket. Using current school performance data (and updated data will be released at the end of this month), students from just 31 schools statewide enrolling a total of 8,700 youngsters would be 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).
Chart 1. Public district schools newly eligible to lose students to EdChoice voucher program
Source: Ohio Department of Education
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
have until mid-August to apply for one of the many open slots. According to
Pechan, having a wider time frame – especially during the summer months when
parents are weighing schooling options heavily – will likely increase uptake.
Expanded number of districts that can have start-up charter schools
Under previous law, a start-up charter school (as opposed to converting an existing district school to a charter, which can happen anywhere geographically in the state) could open only in a “challenged” school district. This was defined as any of Ohio’s Big 8 districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, or Youngstown), a district rated D or F (see here for a list of such districts last year), or a school district in Lucas County that was part of the original charter school pilot area a decade ago (eight school districts in total, one of which is Toledo and already counted under the Big 8 list).
The recently enacted budget added to the definition of challenged school districts any that rank in the bottom five percent of all districts statewide (according to Performance Index score), regardless of their grade (A-F). When it comes to charter school start-ups, eligibility would expand (based on last year’s data) to include 16 new school districts. This is up from 23 school districts, for an increase of 41 percent, and means nearly 55,000 additional students could now have charter options.
The new list of eligible school districts within which charters could start up (based on last year’s data) is below. Notice that all of them earned a “C” (Continuous Improvement) from the state but still rank in the bottom five percent of school districts.
Chart 2. Newly eligible Ohio school districts within which charter school start-ups can operate
Source: Ohio Department of Education
The official eligibility will change once the 2010-11 achievement data are released later this month. But overall, Ohio can expect a significant increase in eligibility of districts that are rated C based on this new budget provision.
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