The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
After what sponsors say was a year of work to “find the right approach,” a new version of a bill that would attach school funding to each student was introduced Tuesday in the Ohio House.
The Ohio House Finance Committee heard about House Bill 290, which would create an “opt-in” approach to private school scholarship funding, and allow students to take funding that would normally go to the public school districts with them as they opt for a private school option.
“The primary education option would remain the local assigned public school,” state Rep. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky, told the committee.
Under the bill, if a family chooses to go the private school route, an educational savings account would be created for the child, and the state’s share of educational funding would be deposited there “for the parents to find the right educational path for their child,” according to McClain.
The program would have an annual disbursement of $5,500 for K-8 students, and $7,500 for high school students, identical to the funding model of the EdChoice private school voucher program in the state.
Private school groups, along with the religious freedom lobby the Center for Christian Virtue, have put their support behind the bill saying it allows parents to choose the education they want for their children.
The so-called “backpack bill” has been criticized by public education officials as yet another siphoning of funds away from public schools, which they say does not create the “thorough and efficient” system of schooling required of the state by the constitution.
“HB 290 would force local communities to rely even more heavily on local property taxes to fund schools for the 90% of Ohio children who attend public schools,” said Ohio Education Association president Scott DiMauro.
Federal education dollars and individual school district levy dollars would not be attached to the child under the bill, only the state share of instruction, typically shelled out to districts as a blanket sum.
Bill sponsors McClain and state Rep. Marilyn John, R-Richland County, acknowledged financial analysis of the bill is still ongoing, but said the bill shouldn’t be considered anti-public schools legislation.
“Rather, it is a pro-child, pro-parent, pro-family bill which empowers parents and families to make a choice that is in the best interest of their child,” John said.
Representatives who led the most recent charge for the Fair School Funding plan, the new overhaul of the state educational funding system, wondered why the bill was introduced before the impact of the overhaul could be assessed.
“When we have not fully fixed our public school funding, and we’ve known that we’ve had over 26 years of not constitutionally funding it … to open up a process to take more money out of the public schools without even giving them a chance,” said state Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland. “Let’s get to that six-year phase-in, really see if that system works.”
McClain said they don’t expect a mass exodus to private schools if their funding plan is passed, and even see it as a plan that could work alongside the public school funding overhaul.
Still, having the option to move to private schools could “create a competitive market” for children and parents to make educational decisions.
The committee will hear opponent and proponent testimony in future hearings on the bill.