Ohio leaders react to Dayton Daily News voucher investigation

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Several Ohio legislative leaders responded to a recent Dayton Daily News report that most of the state’s new private school voucher money was awarded to families who were already sending their children to private school.

Under the state’s expanded program, all Ohio families can access school vouchers. Full vouchers are $8,408 for high school students and $6,166 for K-8 students and are available to any student from a family making up to 450% of the federal poverty line. After that, the wealthier the family, the smaller the stipend.

A Dayton Daily News analysis shows that enrollment at private schools in six area counties grew only 3.7% last year, despite over three times as many private school vouchers being handed out by the state. This comes at the end of the first school year following the state’s drastic expansion of its school choice program.

“Do I believe that was the intent all along? Yes, absolutely,” House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, told reporters last week.

Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, told reporters that his goal with expanding vouchers was merely to give Ohio families more flexibility on where their children go to school.

“The private schools who really need (this) money are in inner city Columbus and Dayton and Cincinnati and Cleveland, and in Lima for that matter,” Huffman said. “Those are serving students who don’t have the financial option to move, as they say, to a better school district. I think it’s a great program.”

Huffman also contends that the average school voucher given out by the state last year (around $6,000) is cheaper than the average cost of a student going to public schools, which he put at about $14,500.

“The taxpayer gets a good deal with each student that takes one of these scholarships and goes to a less expensive alternative school,” Huffman said.

The state awarded nearly $1 billion through the expanded program in its first year, over $30 million more than had been estimated when the state ran the numbers before expansion. And that number could grow as awards have not been finalized.

Russo told this news organization that she’s worried that the state does not have a cap on how much it’ll spend on private school vouchers — which means the total check goes up as more Ohio families request the vouchers.

“At some point in the future, in the very near future, because we have limited resources in our state budget and we have to have a balanced budget, we are now competing,” Russo said. “The public school funding will be usurped by the voucher funding, and that is very alarming to me. And yes, I think that has been the intent all along.”

Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, told this news organization that if private schools are accepting droves of public money, “there should be the same level of scrutiny, accountability and transparency. That’s what we’re not seeing and I think that is a huge problem.”

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