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Published: Wednesday, 3/23/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Ohioans rally to cheer Kasich's voucher plan

Budget lifts cap on new charter schools

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

A rally at the Statehouse in Columbus draws more than 1,000 to show support for Gov. John Kasich's proposal to quadruple the number of school vouchers. A rally at the Statehouse in Columbus draws more than 1,000 to show support for Gov. John Kasich's proposal to quadruple the number of school vouchers.
COLUMBUS DISPATCH/FRED SQUILLANTE Enlarge
COLUMBUS -- Some 1,100 Ohioans swarmed the grounds of the Statehouse Tuesday to demonstrate support for Gov. John Kasich's plan to quadruple the number of school vouchers, even as overall aid for public schools is cut.

The governor's $55.5 billion, two-year budget proposed last week also would lift the cap on the creation of charter schools, which operate with more regulatory freedom than their traditional public K-12 counterparts.

"School choice is not about doing away with public schools," Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor told the crowd. "It's about making them better. … Ohio's future depends on our children being the best and the brightest in the world."

Mr. Kasich's spending plan would more than quad- ruple the number of vouchers to 60,000 by 2013 from roughly 14,000 now.

Suzanne Donahue of Toledo sends her 13 and 11-year-old daughters to St. Catherine of Siena School. She's never received an Ohio EdChoice scholarship, and she's not sure that her children would qualify under the proposed expansion. But she attended Tuesday's rally to support that option for other children.

"We pay out of our pockets for it, and I vote for every tax situation that's on the ballot for the kids because I hate to see the children suffer," she said. "However, it would be nice to have some of those funds come to my own family. … I believe healthy competition will equal better schools and that better schools will survive."

Opponents of the choice programs see such expansion as a continuation of what they perceive as attacks on public education by the new Republican administration -- budget cuts to traditional K-12 schools, overhauls of collective-bargaining rights, and changes in pension contributions and benefits for teachers and other public employees.

"The hits just keep on coming," said Sandy Orth, a special assignment teacher with Toledo Public Schools' Reading Academy. She was among 25 teachers in K-12 and higher education who were lobbying lawmakers Tuesday on behalf of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

"It's undermining the work that we do in the public schools," she said. "We have limited resources, and this is spreading those limited resources even thinner. It will make it very difficult to do the job that we do every day, which is educating our children."

Although the Kasich administration contends that the general-fund budget raises state basic aid to Ohio's 613 school districts, overall basic subsidies would decline by 12.2 percent next year and 7.6 percent in 2013. That's because the proposed budget does not replace $457.4 million in one-time federal stimulus dollars that propped up school budgets this year. It would also accelerate the phase-out of state reimbursements to districts for the loss of revenue from a business tax that was all but eliminated as part of tax reforms begun in 2005.

Clare Aman, 12, a student at St. Mary School in Delaware, Ohio, joins other school-choice advocates at the Statehouse to back the governor's proposal to expand tuition vouchers and charter schools. Clare Aman, 12, a student at St. Mary School in Delaware, Ohio, joins other school-choice advocates at the Statehouse to back the governor's proposal to expand tuition vouchers and charter schools.
COLUMBUS DISPATCH/FRED SQUILLANTE Enlarge
Patrick Gallaway, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said the department is awaiting specific details on how the expansions would work.

Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) recently introduced a bill that would expand Ohio's voucher program and would fund it by redirecting 80 percent of the $5,700 per-pupil aid a public school receives to the private, parochial, or religious school that student chooses. He believes, however, that the governor's budget will be the final word on the changes.

"The spine of this bill is that we need to turn away from the failing school model and look at true needs," Mr. Huffman said. "There are a lot of inequities in the system based on whether you live on that side of the line or this side."

The state runs two voucher programs -- the statewide Ohio EdChoice Program, which caps the number of scholarships at 14,000, and a smaller, less generous program only for students in Cleveland city schools.

The EdChoice program targets students who attend a school that has been in academic emergency or watch for two out of the last three years. The grants are $4,250 for K-8 students and $5,000 for high school students, or the amount of the participating school's tuition, whichever is less.

The budget also would lift the cap on how many bricks-and-mortar and on-line charter schools may be sponsored by one organization. The cap was imposed to slow the proliferation of such schools after a number of highly publicized failures. More than 300 charter schools in Ohio serve nearly 88,000 students.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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