State budget impact: voucher and charter expansion

Amanda Pierce

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
 

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
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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