The bill includes provisions expanding Ohio’s EdChoice program to include some families whose kids either previously got state funding or whose older sibling received the scholarship to attend private school. The amount of money given will no longer be prorated depending on the family’s income level, up to 400% of the federal poverty line, said Aaron Churchill, Ohio Research Director for the Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank.
Families that live outside of school districts defined as “underperforming,” such as Dayton Public Schools or Columbus City Schools, qualify for EdChoice at up to 250% of the federal poverty level under current law, or about $54,900 for a family of three.
“I think those are some minor things that might sort of fly under the radar a little bit but I think really helps families in Ohio,” Churchill said.
But the Ohio Education Association, one of Ohio’s teacher unions, criticized the bill in an op-ed in the Ohio Capital Journal.
Scott DiMauro, the president of OEA, wrote, “... HB 583 will force Ohio taxpayers to spend their hard-earned money on sending more kids to private, mostly religious schools that fail to perform as well as their traditional public school counterparts, even when their families can afford to cover more tuition on their own.”
The EdChoice scholarship amount is currently $5,500 for grades K-8 and $7,500 for grades 9-12, according to the Ohio Department of Education. EdChoice will pay either the scholarship amount or the private school’s actual tuition amount, whichever is less.
The expanded EdChoice program is expected to increase state payments for EdChoice Expansion scholarships by at least $5.9 million per year, starting in fiscal year 2023, according to the Legislative Budget Office.
The “Backpack Bill,” a more radical expansion of the EdChoice scholarships, which would expand the scholarship to everyone in the state no matter where they lived or how much they made, has stalled in House committee.
Charter school sponsor ratings
Another controversial part of the bill prevents some school sponsors — the companies or nonprofits behind a charter school — from becoming subject to some penalties.
Currently, sponsors are evaluated on three areas: academics, best practices and compliance with the state. ODE had a mechanism prior to the bill that said if the sponsor got a zero on any of the three components, the best rating the sponsor can get is ineffective, the second lowest rating out of four.
With the new system, that automatic mechanism is no longer in place, something both the OEA, a charter school critic, and Churchill, a charter school advocate, have criticized. Churchill said the mechanism could allow a sponsor to get away with just submitting paperwork to the state on accountability and best practices, but have failing schools, for example, and not be sanctioned.
“We thought getting rid of that rule was really backtracking on accountability, and it’s really unfortunate to see the legislature do that,” Churchill said.
He noted the rule had rarely been used, as a zero is difficult to get, but it made sure that charters were paying attention to all the components.
The bill also pushes back the start of dyslexia screening requirements by a year, changes part of the school funding formulas to better align with the Fair School Funding Act passed last year and appropriates $2.4 million in federal COVID-19 dollars for public schools and educational service centers for a proposed tutoring and remedial educational services program.
Lacey Snoke, a spokeswoman for Ohio Department of Education, said ODE shared the technical issues they came across while implementing the bill with the Fair School Funding workgroup, the sponsors of the school funding legislation and the House and Senate caucus staff.