Sunday, January 19, 2020

OH: A Superintendent Who Gets The Problem of EdChoice

Woodridge School District is located a bit north of Akron. The district is highly rated and has escaped the current Ohio school rating system with no low ratings. Which means they didn't have to speak out against the problems being created for districts across the state by the EdChoice program. But on their website, you'll find this message from their superintendent, who offers a clear an explanation of what's going wrong. I'm going to reprint the note in its entirety here:

A Message from Superintendent Davis:
January 15, 2020

When we become parents, we want to do whatever it takes to provide the very best for our children. We want them to have every opportunity to achieve, to realize their dreams, to be healthy and happy. As parents, we make many important decisions as our children grow, decisions that will have long, lasting impacts on them as they mature. Choosing what school(s) our children will attend is one of the most important decisions we will make as parents. In Ohio, we have many options when it comes to schooling. Some are clearly better than others. There are private schools, parochial schools, charter schools but we believe the best option for families is the local public school system in any community.

Historically, some of the school choice options in Ohio have included costs for families. If you chose a private school, a religious school or some other non-public option, you typically paid tuition to enroll. Private and parochial schools have historically been selective, admitting only those students that fit their defined profile. Public schools, supported by property taxes, however, take ALL resident students without tuition, a free public education. In recent years, in an attempt to expand choice and, in the opinion of many, attempt to destroy the traditional public school districts in our state, legislators have created special programs designed to divert local property tax dollars from the public schools to fund charter and non-public, religious and private schools. Such programs are known as “scholarship” or “voucher” programs. 

Looking for a way to determine eligibility for vouchers and scholarships, the legislature decided to use the state’s flawed report card system to justify the siphoning of funds from local school districts. If the state determines your school to be “failing” (as determined by the local report card that the legislators themselves have admitted to be flawed), students residing in your school’s attendance area are eligible to obtain a voucher to attend elsewhere. For high schools, the state will “deduct” $6000 from the eligible district’s funding to pay for a voucher. For elementary schools, they take $4650. These funds, taken from local district budgets is NOT reimbursed. It is taken. 

This year, the Woodridge Local School District has NO schools that are voucher eligible. Our district has no “failing schools”. We do, however, recognize that the state’s flawed accountability system could, in future years, cause us to have eligible schools. This year, however, we will not lose any funds to the EdChoice Voucher program. Regardless, it is important to consider what would be happening if we were eligible. Like some other districts nearby, we receive so little in state funding that a voucher program could result in a dramatic loss of LOCAL funds. This year, we receive roughly $957 per pupil from the state of Ohio. If we were voucher eligible and lost just one high school aged student through the voucher program, the state would take $6000 from our budget for that child and send it to the private school. Since we only get $957 per pupil from Columbus, the state would stop payment on that for this student and then they would have to dip into our LOCAL TAX REVENUES to the tune of $5043 to get the full amount “due” the private school. When voters go to the polls to consider local property tax levies for the school district, I do not believe that any of them do so thinking that ANY of the funds being approved will be taken from the district to support individual students attending private or parochial schools. I cannot envision a way that such a system is constitutional. That state is taking money that voters earmarked for a specific purpose and using it for something far different.

As currently written, the rules would make vouchers available in eligible districts for students who NEVER even attended school in the district. For example, a student who would be coming for kindergarten, never having attended school in the district, would be eligible for a voucher IF the school were eligible. In this case, $4650 would be taken from the district to pay for that child to attend a private school with NO reimbursement from the state or the family for a student that was never enrolled in the district to begin with. Similarly, students that are already enrolled in a private school would suddenly become eligible for a voucher even if they had never attended school in that public district at all.

There is so much that the legislature failed to consider when setting up this system. The private schools receiving voucher funding are NOT subject to the same mandates, rules and requirements as the public schools that are losing this funding. Unlike public school districts, these schools are not subject to public audit, public representation, uniform accounting, teacher licensure, public records rules, student testing requirements, or many other mandates that public schools are forced to follow. And then, many of us ask, should public funds be used to support religious schools at all?

The Ohio EdChoice Voucher Program is seriously flawed. To help the public better understand the issues, the documents that follow contain more specific information about the program AND suggested solutions. Produced by educational experts and leaders from across the state, this information is provided with the hope that local citizens will stand up to be heard. We urge you to contact your elected officials – the very people who put these provisions into law are the ones that can fix this. Below, you will find contact information for the Ohio House and Ohio Senate members who represent our district. Contact them and DEMAND that they act! The future of public education is at stake.

You can be assured that Superintendents, Treasurers and Board Members from all across Ohio are busy advocating for change. Boards are passing resolutions in opposition to The EdChoice Voucher Program. Press Conferences are being held across the state to voice concern and opposition. Meetings are being held with legislators to share concern and to offer ideas for common sense reform. Calls are being made. Together, we can and must ensure that the legislature acts THIS month before the voucher application process is set to begin on February 1, 2020. Join us. Add your voice to the cause. Read below for more information.

Walter Davis, Superintendent 

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