The Ohio Legislature has created a royal mess in its rush to give vouchers to almost every student in the state. They can’t decide whether the vouchers will be paid by taking money away from the state’s underfunded public schools and how to decide which children get public money to attend private schools.

Jan Resseger untangles the mess in her lucid way. 

Read the whole post, not just this excerpt for her clear analysis.

Rancor and confusion over the issue of EdChoice private school tuition vouchers filled the chambers of the Ohio Legislature all last week. In anticipation of the February 1st date when families were supposed to start signing up for vouchers for next school year, the Legislature set out to address problems with Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program, problems created when changes were surreptitiously inserted into the state budget last summer during last minute hearings by the conference committee.

Last week’s negotiations about the voucher program broke down entirely on Thursday night and Friday, however.  The Legislature has now delayed the EdChoice voucher sign-up process; it has given itself two months to address big problems in the program. Here is how the Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell describes the chaos in Ohio:

Ohio’s controversy over tuition vouchers sparked anger, political posturing and suspense in Columbus this week, with no clarity for anyone. That won’t come for two months.  Parents won’t know until April if their children are eligible to receive a tax-funded voucher toward private school tuition.  Vouchers applications that were supposed to start Saturday won’t. Private schools won’t know if they will receive any state tuition help. And about 1,200 public schools across Ohio don’t know if they will remain on a state list of underperforming schools which lets students use vouchers that are then billed to the district. Even state legislators can’t say what form Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program will take for the fall. After the Ohio House and Senate proposed drastic changes this week to rework which students would be eligible for vouchers and who would pay for them, negotiations fizzled. By Friday, with Saturday’s start of the voucher application looming, both houses voted to delay any applications until April 1, while they search for a compromise.”

One interesting detail about the huge fight in Columbus about school choice right now is that it is taking place among Ohio Republicans. The Ohio Senate has a Republican supermajority; the Ohio House recently dropped from a supermajority to a 61.6 percent Republican majority. Democrats are surely deeply involved, however. Ohio Democrats reliably support the institution of public education in this fight: They insist that public tax dollars ought to be spent on Ohio’s public schools, which everybody agrees remain underfunded.

Today’s debate, however, is about more than whether we ought to have vouchers. After all today in Ohio, we do have vouchers—five kinds of vouchers. There is the original 1996 Cleveland Scholarship program. Additionally there are now four statewide Ohio voucher programs:  Peterson Special Education vouchers, Autism vouchers, EdChoice vouchers, and a newer program, EdChoice Expansion vouchers.

As I listened to the January 31, 2020 Friday afternoon hearing in the Ohio Senate, what I heard were all sorts of arguments about a number of important policy questions. The debate was confusing, just as the whole week’s policy debate in and outside the legislature has been complicated and confounding. Legislators and advocates across Ohio are arguing about four different questions, but the debate has grown increasingly chaotic as people conflate the questions, their answers to the questions, and the intersection of the issues involved.  Here are the four questions:

  • Should Ohio pay for private school tuition vouchers out of the state’s education budget when the state should be spending the money to support what everyone agrees are underfunded public schools?
  • As far as the operation of the EdChoice voucher program goes, should qualification for the vouchers be based on the grades Ohio has been assigning to schools on the state report cards or should it be based on family income alone?
  • As far as the operation of the EdChoice voucher program goes, should the state fully fund the vouchers or should the state be deducting the price of the vouchers from local school district budgets?
  • As far as the operation of the EdChoice voucher program goes, what should the state do to hold harmless the school districts which lost millions of dollars during the current school year when an unexpected and explosive number of students already in private schools claimed vouchers which legislators had surreptitiously—in a brand new state budget—permitted them to claim through a local school district deduction?

Read on to learn Jan’s answers.