'Backpack Scholarship,' an education voucher expansion, could cost Ohio taxpayers $1B

School Desk
Posted at 6:29 PM, Mar 14, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Republican lawmakers in Ohio want to expand school choice, but education advocates argue that the latest proposed bill will decimate public schools, especially since the legislation has a $1 billion price tag.

More than 75,000 students in Ohio use education vouchers to 'opt out' of the public school system. House Bill 11 would allow for even more.

David Desser’s five children switched out of public schools, and into private and charter programs.

"Each one has chosen a different path based on how they were doing," Desser said.

This is made possible for many by the Ohio voucher system, but Desser doesn't qualify, even though that extra money could be used to offset costs. Under H.B. 11, he would be able to get vouchers for his kids.

Republican state Reps. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) and Marilyn John (R-Richland County) proposed creating a new voucher program, called the "Backpack Scholarship." If passed, it would give $5,500 to each elementary and middle school student and $7,500 to high schoolers, so they can attend a nonpublic school or be home-schooled.

"When resources are diverted to private schools, that's taking away from our ability to ensure every single student in the state of Ohio, regardless of their race or their zip code or their family background, has access to a high-quality public education," said Scott DiMauro, President of the Ohio Education Association.

DiMauro, along with more than 100 schools, have been fighting against this, since it takes money from public education.

"We need to fully and fairly fund our public schools before we start thinking about expanding subsidies that go to families who have their kids attend private schools," the advocate said.

He is also concerned about the cost. An analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission found that this bill would cost Ohioans $1.13 billion to give vouchers to the 185,000 would-be-newly eligible students. McClain said not everyone eligible will participate.

"The number is an unrealistic expectation... It's a 100% take-up rate and that is physically impossible," the lawmaker said.

The money should follow the child, argued Desser.

"You know your child and you know the situation they're in at that particular school and you might be able to find a situation that works better for them," the dad said.

The bill sponsors believe that there is a way for public schools to be fully funded and also expand the voucher system, but public education advocates say the fair funding needs to come first.

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