As some lawmakers debate Nazi home schooling scandal, others propose expansion to school voucher program

Posted at 8:55 PM, Feb 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-09 11:15:30-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A bill to expand the school voucher system and provide more money to home-schoolers has been proposed in Ohio as the Department of Education is investigating a Nazi home-schooling scandal. This is not the first Holocaust education issue the state has had in one year.

Ohio’s public schools have been pushing for consistent funding for decades.

William Philis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, has spent his career fighting against the voucher system.

"We don't have a constitutional system and they're exacerbating the unconstitutionality of the system by draining money out of the public school system," Philis said.

A new bill introduced to the state Senate will continue to leave public schools behind in favor of supporting private schools, he added.

Senate Bill 11 is expected to use taxpayer money to give $5,500 to elementary and middle school students and $7,500 to high schoolers so they can attend any public, community or charted nonpublic school. Ashtabula Republican Sen. Sandra O’Brien introduced the bill because, "Ohio should act now to put parents, not government, in control of their children’s education," she said in sponsor testimony Tuesday.

Eric Frank, president of School Choice Ohio, believes the legislation allows children to get the best education possible.

"Primarily, what those do is they target scholarships to families that either live in what we typically refer to as under-performing public school areas, not necessarily districts, but buildings within districts and also low-income families," Frank said.

The bill would expand the current EdChoice Scholarship to give universal eligibility to all students in the state of Ohio.

RELATED: Shaker Heights Schools joins lawsuit against EdChoice

There are two sections of the current program:

  • EdChoice Expansion, which the state reported had 17,152 students participating in fiscal year 2021, requires income verification. Eighty-five percent of these students were below the 200% poverty rate.
  • Standard EdChoice, which the state reported has 33,129 student in FY 2021, does not require income verification. More than 75% of the students utilizing this program were not low-income qualified.

Of the total 50,281 students, 25,180 are low-income qualified, with 25,101 that are not. This means that half of the students utilizing taxpayer money to go to a private or charter school are not designated as "needing government assistance."

This is not to say that people who aren't in that designation don't struggle to have to pay the full price of the tuition — but it just means it is unknown if they do struggle to pay or not.

CLICK HERE to read more about EdChoice and the Fair School Funding Plan.

"Most people are really happy with their public schools," Frank added. "But families that aren't, they should have another option."

Philis strongly disagreed.

"I'd say that's pure poppycock," Philis said. "I don't get a voucher for a backyard swimming pool because I don't want to go to the public pool."

Even if a student takes a voucher, private schools choose who will be admitted, the advocate said.

"What we're doing in Ohio right now is that we're funding segregation," he stated. "We are funding, with taxpayer money, White Flight."

The Fair School Funding Plan (FSFP), was somewhat attempted to be put into place for fiscal year 2021-22. It was supposed to change how the state delegates funding for school districts.

Starting in the 2021 FY, lawmakers added hundreds of millions of state dollars in both direct funding and tax credits to subsidize families sending their children to private and charter schools. Critics, like Ohio Education Association, said this makes taxpayers pay for these for-profit schools and diverts money away from public education, which desperately needs it.

RELATED: Educators, counselors in Ohio say schools need more mental health resources

The bill would also expand the home-school tax credit from $250 to $2,000, which raises concerns.

Ohio's Nazi Education Problem

The Ohio Dept. of Education is investigating a family in Upper Sandusky after it was revealed that their home-school program was allegedly a Nazi propaganda school, where children were taught how to love Hitler and become a "wonderful Nazi."

Logan and Katja Lawrence were the alleged creators of the "Dissident Homeschool" group which had 2,500 members on its Telegram channel when they were exposed in a late January article from VICE News.

“We need to ensure that home-schooling is not an opportunity for parents to systemically teach their children hatred,” state Sen. Catherine D. Ingram (D-Cincinnati) said. “Senate Bill 1, which is pending in Education Committee, weakens home-schooling requirements. The legislature must protect our children from instruction fueled by racism and intolerance.”

News 5 asked Sen. President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) if there should be oversight over the home-school program, which he said "absolutely," but there are specific rules and regulations.

"I hope we're long past the point in our society where we take the actions of one person or a small group of people and paint the entire group as though somehow they're participating in that," Huffman responded.

The Department of Education should be figuring out what is going on, he added.

"I hope, frankly, that people will not try to take some political advantage or policy advantage... basically trying to decide that a couple of sociopaths somewhere in Ohio who are doing strange things that... somehow should affect the policy of the rest of the state is anathema to me," the GOP leader said (anathema means something that a person hates).

Democrats have already been jumping at making sure a situation like this does not happen again.

There are only two Jewish members in the Ohio House — Democratic Reps. Casey Weinstein of Hudson and Dani Isaacsohn of Cincinnati.

Weinstein consistently tweets about antisemitism, including a recent post advocating for more home-schooling regulations. Republican state Rep. Riordan McClain, who represents the area in which the alleged Nazi-group resides, responded to him.

"Let's not take freedom away from all for the terrible ideas of a few," McClain said. "I can tell you as a home-educating parent from Upper, I've never heard of these people."

In a statement to the press, McClain condemned the Nazi-based teachings and "racial hatred." He, however, acknowledged that "differing opinions exist in a free society and our job as community members is to have robust ongoing debates."

"Get the public system out of the way, give the parents the money — we're going to have a school that involves the Ku Klux Klan mentality," Philis said.

Frank argued back.

"There are 50,000 families in Ohio that are home-schooling their kids," Frank said. "And my guess is 99.9% of them probably do a good job and they are their kids, and so it's their right."

News 5 continues to search to find out if the Lawrence family has received any funding from the state.

This is not the first time Ohio has dealt with a Holocaust-related scandal in the past year.

Back in March of 2022, News 5 aired an exclusive report about comments made by one of the primary sponsors of a bill to ban schools from teaching "divisive topics" — H.B. 327. The report stemmed from an interview exchange between state Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula) and News 5 Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau.

RELATED: Comments about the Holocaust from representative sponsoring 'divisive concepts' bill raise concerns

During the interview, Fowler Arthur was asked about the financial aspect of the bill. While attempting to talk about funding, she brought up the Holocaust, saying that students needed to hear the massacre from the perspective of the “German soldiers.”

RELATED: 'Run its course': Lawmaker responds to News 5 report about Holocaust comments

After the exclusive story went international, the original divisive concepts bill had been renamed the “both sides bill” or the “both sides of the Holocaust bill.”

Former Speaker of the Ohio House Bob Cupp (R-Lima) responded to a question about the lawmaker's comments on the Holocaust, saying they were "inappropriate remarks, they were uninformed remarks."

The bill swiftly died, despite Fowler Arthur's repeated efforts to bring it back to life, a records request by News 5 showed. Also in the records were dozens of angry emails to the lawmaker.

She was previously on the state Board of Education but has never participated in the public education system as a student or a parent. She was home-schooled and did not attend college.

In the new General Assembly, the lawmaker will have more power than she has ever had. News 5 shared in January that Fowler Arthur will be the primary and secondary Education Committee's vice chair.

"I think that in terms of the committee makeup, is it concerning to me that that individual has been given a leadership position on an education committee? Absolutely," Minority House Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) told News 5 in a one-on-one interview.

Luckily, Russo said, the vice chair shouldn't have a huge role in leading the direction of a committee.

Fowler Arthur has refused to answer any of Morgan Trau's requests for comment following the aftermath of the Holocaust story.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.