EdChoice list grows beyond intended fix
The Canton Repository, Jan. 26
Recruiting season is upon us.
Not for athletes, but rather for students who will be enrolled in grades K-12 for the 2020-21 school year.
Nearly 3,000 organized events are scheduled across the state over the next several days as Ohio districts participate in National School Choice Week, which begins today.
Open houses, school fairs and other gatherings will provide information to parents and kids about their educational options, which in Ohio are many: traditional public schools, open enrollment among public districts, charter schools, magnet schools, online academies, private schools and homeschooling.
“We hope National School Choice Week spreads awareness about the educational options available in Ohio and encourages moms and dads to find the learning environment best suited to their child,” Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, said in a news release.
In Ohio, that freedom to choose will come under sharp focus this week, when state lawmakers are expected to revise the list of public school buildings designated as “underperforming.” Students attending these schools would be eligible to participate in the Educational Choice Scholarship (EdChoice) Program, which provides a voucher for them to enroll instead in a participating private school.
That list is about to mushroom, from 517 buildings this school year to 1,227 for 2020-21 because of changes — late in the past budget process and with no public input, one opponent accurately has noted — that state lawmakers approved last year.
Some quick history: Ohio’s school voucher system began 25 years ago to give parents in so-called failing public districts (initially limited to Cleveland) a grant to help pay for private education. Later, the program expanded to include Ohio school buildings that received failing grades on at least two specific report card measures.
For the coming school year, the system is adding any school that received a single D or F — even if the rest of its grades were A’s and it earned an overall passing grade. This has opened the door to some students in the state’s top districts — in places like Dublin, Solon and Upper Arlington, and locally in North Canton and Northwest, among others — to receive taxpayer-financed vouchers.
This makes no sense.
Lawmakers agree, but they now face a rush for a quick fix. Enrollment for next school year’s vouchers begins Saturday.
(Stop us if you’ve heard this sequence of events before: A late addition to the massive budget bill. No public testimony. Unintended consequences. A rushed fix.)
State Rep. Phil Robinson, a Democrat from Solon — where the public schools are rated among the best nationally but where a building convolutedly has joined the new list — might have summed it up best.
“The intent of the EdChoice program is a noble one: for lower-income and working-class families to be able to afford education alternatives in struggling school districts. But as we have seen, the original intent has been corrupted with a broken Ohio State Report Card system and an unconstitutional funding system that disadvantages students in rural, urban and suburban districts and exacerbates inequality among all Ohio districts,” he said. “This problem cannot be fixed entirely overnight, but we do need to move quickly to make immediate, short-term improvements before Feb. 1.”
We support most forms of school choice, and we empathize with parents who already are making plans for the next school year. But far too many good schools are included on the new EdChoice list.
Lawmakers need to address this mistake immediately, then revisit the underlying issues that spawned vouchers in the first place: poverty, inequitable funding for public and a flawed grading system in Ohio’s schools.