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BY:  Ohio Capital Journal

Public and private education supporters had a mixed bag of reactions to the state budget proposal released by the Ohio Senate GOP on Tuesday.

Public school advocates criticized the bill’s provisions making private school vouchers almost universal at 450% of the federal poverty level, allowing those who may be able to pay for the private education to be eligible for scholarships.

“Paying private school tuition for wealthy families is not a good use of our education dollars, especially when the state is still trying to accomplish the full and fair public school funding that is required by Ohio’s constitution,” Ohio Federation of Teachers president Melissa Cropper said after the budget draft was released.

Ohio Senate GOP leadership proclaimed that “significant reforms” were on the horizon in education policy, with Senate President Matt Huffman saying the new education budget would bring “the results our parents should expect for their children’s education.”

Senate Republicans said school districts would receive “at least the level of state aid they received this school year,” and Senate Finance Committee Chair Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, touted the increase of the minimum state share of instruction from 5% to 10%,  but certain “guarantees” would be eliminated in the current education funding formula.

One of those eliminated guarantees would be $106.8 million to 36 districts, which paid residents for private school scholarships.

“The state now directly funds students where they are educated making this giveaway a wasteful use of taxpayer funds,” an announcement on the budget stated.

Those direct funds will be distributed on a sliding scale based on income if the budget bill passes as written, but the eligibility level in the proposal stands at an annual income of $135,000 for a family of four.

“Every student in Ohio will be eligible for a scholarship worth at least 10% of the maximum scholarship regardless of income,” Senate GOP leaders said in a release.

The full scholarship would award $6,165 for K-8 students and $8,407 for high school students.

Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, used her initial reaction to the budget proposal to discredit changes made to the private school vouchers.

“A program that was intended to help low-income children could now subsidize wealthy families to continue to send their children to private schools,” Antonio said in a statement. “Our caucus will be spending the next few days digging into the details to follow the money.”

One thing the budget won’t be paying for under the Senate’s budget proposal is an expansion of a statewide free breakfast and lunch program. The House inserted a provision to make school meals free for anyone whose household income qualified them for free or reduced meals, considered a small win by school nutritionists who asked for completely universal school meals.

In the Senate version, that provision has been removed.

Many of those who dislike the education parts of the budget proposal spoke out against Senate Bill 1, legislation that would restructure the Ohio Department of Education to become the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW), and work within the governor’s office under two deputy directors, one for primary and secondary education, and another for workforce development.

The bill, and the provision now in the budget draft, “transfers most of the powers and duties of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to the DEW,” according to budget documents.

The State Board of Ed and the state superintendent would retain power “regarding educator licensure, licensee disciplinary actions, school district territory transfers and certain other areas,” the budget proposal states.

Odds are opponents will be back to decry the inclusion of SB 1’s language in the new budget. Cropper said including the restructure would be “too big of a reorganization to shove through as part of a budget bill.”

“It deserves more attention and a more thoughtful, deliberative legislative process,” according to Cropper.

The same message was sent by opponents of the bill in the last General Assembly, when that version of the restructuring came late in the GA session, and died as the lame duck session ended.

It reappeared at the beginning of the year, and has been going through the committee process in the last few months.

Some right-wing groups praised the education provisions of the budget, with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute complimenting the preservation of third-grade retention and the expansion of vouchers. The group also said the Senate version has “taken another step towards a more coherent and accountable governance system,” referring to SB 1, which they have supported.

“Greater parent empowerment, accountable school systems and strong evidence-based literacy policies can only help increase student achievement,” said Fordham’s Ohio research director, Aaron Churchill.

The Buckeye Institute’s Greg R. Lawson called the proposal “a significant step toward putting students first,” with the plan to universalize private school vouchers and improve charter school funding.

Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.


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