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Their choice: fewer vouchers

Columbiana BOE takes stand against program

COLUMBIANA– Superintendent Don Mook opened the recent school board meeting by sharing his disappointment in the effects of the EdChoice Voucher Program.

The program started out as a way to provide an alternative education choice for students whose local public school was considered a “failing school” by the state, but due to the number of changes to Ohio law of the past decade, more vouchers are being granted every year.

“The landscape for this is very, very difficult for public schools across the board,” Mook said.

Ohio went from having fewer than 300 schools being eligible for vouchers in the 2018-19 school year to having more than 1,200 schools eligible for the 2020-21 school year. Over that two-year span, there has been a 300 percent increase.

There are two parts to the EdChoice Voucher Program. First, students whose family income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level can obtain a state-paid voucher to go to a private school regardless of how their public school performs. Second, students whose public school is considered to be a “failing school” by the state can take a voucher that the school district pays for.

“It would be different if these private schools had the same guidelines, but they don’t,” board member Scott Caron said. “Public school are not for-profit, but those schools are for-profit. They spend as little as they can and make as much money as they can, and that is what happens with them. That’s why the whole education system in Ohio is broke now.”

Mook said that the problem for public schools is that the program has expanded to include students from public schools that are receiving adequate grades. Over 47 percent of the buildings on the current voucher list have received overall grades of A, B or C on the EdChoice conditions report card.

Elementary school vouchers are $4,650 per student and high school vouchers are $6,000 per student. Mook said that this is unfair to local taxpayers, who end up paying for the vouchers through property tax levies.

“It greatly diminishes what we can possibly do here already,” Mook said. “School districts across Ohio are having difficulty already passing levies. Imagine the dollars that are going to privates now. It’s going to expand and hurt us tremendously.”

Caron also showed sympathy for local taxpayers.

“These private schools are stealing from the taxpayers within those cities and school districts,” Caron said. “They are stealing it and taking it to make money, which is illegitimate.”

Mook emphasized that a big problem is that students who have never been enrolled in a public school are still qualifying for the district-paid vouchers, yet the public school district still has to pay.

“We need to let our local legislature know that we don’t support this happening in public schools across the state of Ohio,” Mook said. “This voucher program is extremely bad for our school district.”

The resolution to oppose the voucher was approved by the board unanimously.

slendak@mojonews.com

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