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Published: Sunday, 4/20/2008

Interest in tuition vouchers up in Ohio


COLUMBUS - More students are seeking, and more schools are accepting, taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers, a statewide program that has grown in its first three years.

About 40 percent of the applications submitted by Friday were for new students, but about 10 percent of current students chose not to reapply, the state education department said.

More than 10,000 applications were submitted, triple the number that arrived during its first year. The Educational Choice Scholarship Program lets students at low-performing public schools attend private or parochial schools with tax dollars.

About 3,500 applications were filed in the first year of the program and 7,900 for the current school year. But some applicants are ineligible and not all awarded a voucher use it. This year, 6,760 students use the program.

Interest from private and parochial schools also is increasing. Next year, 49 schools want to participate, compared with 15 the first year and 33 this year.

"I think we've had really wonderful success the past couple of years for schools in the program," said Lucia McQuaide, superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus. Some Catholic schools initially balked, but many had open seats and accepted voucher students, she said.

Cincinnati schools led the state in the number of applications for the third year in a row; the Columbus school district had the most public schools with voucher-eligible students: 56.

Columbus students filed 1,897 applications for vouchers for next year, up from about 500 from this year. Cincinnati, where 29 long-struggling public schools were eligible for vouchers, had three more applications for the coming year than Columbus.

"We are seeing a slowdown [in voucher interest], and I think to a great degree that's attributed to our improved academic performance as well as new facilities," Columbus district spokesman Jeff Warner said.

Ohio has 14,000 available voucher slots. Some advocates, such as School Choice Ohio, have worked to spread the word about the program, calling to parents in schools that are struggling academically. The state does not promote the program.

"It's really not a goal of the department to have the program grow or to reach the 14,000 cap," said Kim Murnieks, executive director of the Center for School Options and Finance at the education department.

"We really are just interested in ensuring the program is being implemented according to the law and that private schools that are participating are in compliance with laws."

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