Public school leaders rally against private school voucher program

Hamilton Schools Superintendent Mike Holbrook was one of the main speakers at a joint press conference Friday where school officials from some public school districts in Butler, Warren and Hamilton counties blasted the recently expanded EdChoice private school voucher program. But private school officials say their school families also pay local public school taxes and receiving a portion of tax monies for the vouchers is fair. (Photo By Michael D. Clark/Journal-News)

Public school leaders from three area counties, including almost every Butler County district, came together Friday to blast the recent expansion of private school vouchers as a “shell game” using tax dollars.

More than 80 superintendents, school board members, district officials and school administrators from Butler, Warren and Hamilton County held their second, joint press conference in less than 30 days to sharply criticize the latest version of EdChoice vouchers, saying it remains unfair and financially damaging to public schools.

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But local private school officials said the state’s recent delay in the application date for EdChoice vouchers is harming their schools and stressed that non-public school families also pay local public school taxes.

Mike Holbrook, superintendent of Hamilton Schools, described the newly expanded EdChoice vouchers as being funded with public school tax money approved by local school residents to fund their neighborhood public schools and not private schools.

Holbrook said if the Ohio Legislature, which is considering changes in the EdChoice voucher program after ordering its original application start date delayed from Feb. 1 to April 1, doesn’t improve the current plan, it will harm public schools.

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He said state lawmakers must find a voucher plan “that does not take monies away from public schools.”

But, he added, “if the legislature determines vouchers are good policy … then we simply ask the legislature to pay for them and end the shell game being played with locally voted tax dollars and state dollars.”

Moreover, said Holbrook, any new plan most also require all schools that accept vouchers “be held to the same accountability standards as public schools,” which under law must admit all students, use only certified teachers and are graded each year by the state on dozens of academic and other criteria not required of private schools.

But Blane Collison, principal of private Fenwick High School, said private school families also pay local public school taxes.

“While I understand public schools wish not to have monies taken away from them, non-public schools desire to also be the recipient of education funding provided by the state,” said Collison, whose school is located in the Middletown portion of Warren County.

“As a Catholic school we believe parents are the primary educators of their children, and that parental choice in education is a fundamental right. Parents choosing non-public school for their child’s education, should not preclude them from receiving educational benefits and monies that best meet their child’s needs,” he said.

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Private school parents “are tax payers too, and should be entitled to a portion of the monies provided by the state from tax dollars.”

And the principal of private Badin High School in Hamilton – Brian Pendergest – complained the two-month delay in the application window for EdChoice is hurting his school and limiting the choices of school families.

Pendergest, who leads the only Catholic high school in Butler County, said “changing the EdChoice program at the last minute is a disservice to the parents and the students.”

“The decision to delay the window for applying for EdChoice has put everyone involved in limbo. More importantly, the delay negatively impacts families as they try to determine where their children will go to school. Parents have the right to determine the best educational option for their child and they are unable to due to the delay,” he said.

But Michael Berding, president of the Fairfield Board of Education, said the recently expanded EdChoice program is “class warfare and pilfering tax dollars.”

“If a private school accepts EdChoice vouchers, then they should be forced to take all students that apply,” said Berding.

“Please contact your legislators today and tell them you want equitable school funding by ending the EdChoice scholarship expansion,” he said.

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