Bill Phillis is a retired state education official who writes frequently about the Republican war against public schools and against the education provisions of the state constitution. He created the Ohio Coalion for Equity and Advocacy of School Funding to publicize his campaign for equitable funding and his opposition to privatization.

He writes:


The Senate President, in response to the Universal Voucher bill (HB 290), is quoted in the May 9 Gongwer, as saying:

“The education in Ohio needs to be student-or user-based, not institution-based.” The Ohio constitution (Article VI, section 2) requires the legislature to secure and fund a thorough and efficient system of common schools. The common school system is “institution-based” as required by the constitution.

It appears that the oath of office taken by all legislators means nothing to some of them. HB 290 is treachery; Betrayal of the Ohio constitution; Subversion. 

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Placeholder legislation aimed at giving parents multiple options for using state primary and secondary education funding has spurred strong pushback despite a lack of firm details.

The bill (HB 290) as introduced by Rep. Marilyn John (R-Shelby) and Rep. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky), which currently consists of two sentences, calls for the creation of a funding formula that “allows families to choose the option for all computed funding amounts associated with students’ education to follow them to the schools they attend.”

Rep. John said in an interview Friday the legislation was inspired in part by the coronavirus pandemic, which led many parents to reevaluate their children’s educational options after schools shut their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“The vision is really to provide greater choice for students and parents,” she said, “I think we have found during the pandemic that each child’s needs when it comes to education can be different. It is our goal to provide resources so that each child can receive a quality education in the way that they best learn.”

She said the measure could end up providing funding for students taught in private schools or at home, with the best interest of each child being the sponsors’ focus.

Rep. McClain said in an interview one potential model to follow is legislation recently signed by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice creating a system of educational savings accounts. The law gives families the ability to access to up to $4,600 per student in state funding to spend on private school tuition or other education-related expenses.

“Working that into our funding formula would be a path that I would like to pursue, but I’m certainly not entrenched in any one manner,” he said. “I just want to make sure that parents at the end of the day have access funds for the use of the education of their child and that they have greater flexibility in the education that they give their child.”

The bill’s introduction came after the House voted to pass a state operating budget (HB 110) that largely incorporates a school funding formula (HB 1) developed in part by Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima). Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has said the upper chamber could keep some aspects of plan but is unlikely to pass a budget containing the entirety of the House’s proposal. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 21, 2021)

Rep. John called it a “great time” for lawmakers to expand the debate over the future of school funding in the state. She said she and Rep. McClain are “waiting to see what happens in the Senate” and having discussions on their bill as they work to craft a more-detailed version of the measure.

The introduction of HB290 drew immediate criticism from public school officials and advocates.

“Harmful universal vouchers are a reckless abrogation of the Ohio General Assembly’s responsibility to provide a high quality education to every child in this state,” Dan Heintz, a member of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District Board of Education, said in a statement. “Lawmakers don’t get it. Vouchers are like termites eating away at the very foundation of our communities,”

Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, said in a statement that the proposal is an attempt to undermine traditional public schools.

“This is a direct assault on the Ohio Constitution,” he said. “We know vouchers are primarily a refund and a rebate program for parents who never intended to send their children to public schools. Vouchers disproportionately harm impoverished and minority students and reward the well-to-do.”

The coalition is behind a long-simmering legal effort over existing state voucher programs that help qualifying families pay private school tuition. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, December 18, 2020).