Area leaders respond to big changes in school voucher program, state testing

After months of public pressure by area school leaders and those statewide, it was the recent coronavirus shutdowns that largely forced a major step back on expanding school vouchers and a cancellation of student testing.

School superintendents in Butler and Warren counties hailed the Ohio legislature’s sweeping set of actions this week that coincidentally aligned with many of them had been publicly lobbying for.

Though they are saddened by the virus shutdowns of all Ohio K-12 schools through at least April 6, the relaxing of some contentious state school mandates is welcomed by some local school superintendents.

The EdChoice private school vouchers, which drew stinging criticisms from public school officials, will remain unchanged from last year’s application and pay-out procedure. The program was set for a major expansion this year as many more schools were added to the list of those whose students would be eligible for private school vouchers. That rise came primarily because schools’ performance on individual metrics on their state-released report card did not meet standards, even if their overall grade was sufficient.

Opponents argued the big increase in eligible students would decimate district budgets, while proponents said they preferred students to have as many choices as possible in where they receive their education.

The perennially criticized student testing that happens in the spring of each school year will also be skipped for the 2019-20 school year, as will the annual Ohio school report card, which is largely based on results from those exams.

Explore MORE: Area school officials ask: Why do student testing with virus shutdown?

Billy Smith, Fairfield Schools superintendent, was one of the more vocal critics of both EdChoice expansion and what he called the over-emphasis on student testing.

Explore MORE: EdChoice debate: Butler County school leaders react to delay in voucher program decision

“In light of the fact that we are in the midst of a state of emergency in Ohio, I am relieved to hear that the legislature has made the decision to freeze the EdChoice voucher program. It is the right thing to do,” said Smith.

“I am hopeful that our state and country can get back to normal sooner rather than later and that the state legislature will use the time between this year and next year to address state testing and the flawed report card system.”

Matt Miller, superintendent of Lakota Schools – the largest suburban district in southwest Ohio – said “our students, families, teachers and staff already have stressors on their day-to-day activities and lives because of COVID-19 and wondering whether or not state testing will happen shouldn’t be another one.”

“I am glad that our legislators have realized this and have decided to cancel state testing. There is an unreasonable over reliance on state testing in Ohio. If we can eliminate a flawed tool from our continuum of learning, then we should.”

Marlon Styles Jr., superintendent of the 6,400-student Middletown Schools, said “waiving state testing and postponing Ed Choice was the right thing to do at this time.”

“The priority of this country is not state testing. The priority of this country is not EdChoice. The priority of this country is taking care of the health and well-being of our families,” said Styles.

“It is my hope the legislators remain committed to report card reform and they work to address the devastating impact of Ed Choice. By postponing Ed Choice, they now have time to get it right,” he said.

The leader of Warren County’s largest school system – Mason Schools – said he hoped the cancellation and delays enacted by state legislators will allow them to now “adjust and adapt” reforms to the oft-criticized but mandated requirements.

“We appreciate that Ohio lawmakers recognized that state testing should not be the priority during this unprecedented event,” said Mason Superintendent Jonathan Cooper.

“We also appreciate that the legislature recognized Ed Choice’s over-reliance on flawed state report card measures, and hope that a long-term solution can be found that will ensure that state and local resources allocated for public education are used for exactly that purpose.”

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