Ohio Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, wants to introduce a new tuition voucher program to make private schools more affordable.
The proposed bill would combine three existing voucher programs into one. The bill has provisions to relax income requirements and to get rid of the current “failing schools” system that prioritizes students in underperforming school districts.
Under the current system, private school voucher money comes out of the budget of the public school the student would have attended. Huffman’s plan wants to stop this, but his proposal does not specify from which part of the budget the money will come. Some expect pushback from public school districts, since the state education budget is already tight.
One of the biggest changes Huffman’s plan would make is catering more to middle-class families. The proposed voucher program allows families who make up to four times the federal poverty level — $96,000 for a family of four — to receive vouchers.
The money would be given on a sliding scale, with the maximum amount of $5,000 for K-8 education and $7,500 for high schools given to those within twice the federal poverty level.
Huffman said his scholarship proposal would cut the current cost of education in Ohio — around $11,000 per student every year — in half.
“The more people who use this voucher, the less cost to the taxpayer overall,” Huffman said. “We know public schools to the taxpayer cost the most.”
Current programs also award money based on what school district students are in; those in districts with strong public schools receive fewer vouchers. Huffman wants to change this by allowing families in all school districts to have the choice of attending a private school.
“There needs to be some real coherence in terms of how we do this,” Huffman said at a press conference. “The second part of this, of course, is to expand educational choice opportunities, especially to the middle class families in the state of Ohio, regardless of zip code.”
The program will also implement “education savings accounts” that let parents save unused voucher money for future education costs. A state-managed account would hold the leftover money to use for more expensive schools or college tuition.
Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Nevada have similar plans, and six other states have discussed adopting the system.
According to Huffman, the purpose of the savings account is to allow parents to “shop around” for the best value, as well as stop private schools from increasing tuition to voucher amounts. Some expressed concerns that the savings accounts would lead parents to choose inexpensive schools in order to save for future education expenses. Huffman responded by saying this would not be a problem because it would take careful planning on the part of the parents. Additionally, the voucher money could go to waste if the student in question decides to attend a public school.
EdChoice and its expansion programs are open to students anywhere in the state who attend public schools that are considered “failing” because of low test scores. Students in Cleveland can use The Cleveland Scholarship for private schools in the city and neighboring suburbs.
A case involving the Cleveland Scholarship went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, after criticism that providing money to attend private religious schools was a violation of the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled the vouchers were constitutional.
Huffman has not introduced the bill to the Ohio Senate yet but plans to do so within the week.