Dayton hopes to slow voucher student exodus

State scholarship helps students at low-performing schools leave for private school

Voucher-eligible schools

Trotwood: Madison Park

Jefferson Twp: Blairwood

Dayton: Belle Haven, Belmont, Cleveland, Dayton Boys Prep, Dunbar, Eastmont, Edison, E.J. Brown, Fairview, Kemp, Kiser, Longfellow, Louise Troy, Meadowdale HS, Meadowdale PK-8, River's Edge Montessori, Ruskin, Thurgood Marshall, Westwood, Wogaman, World of Wonder, Wright Brothers

Dayton Public Schools has seen a sizeable increase in students leaving for private schools via the state’s voucher program in recent years, and the district is trying to fight another expected bump via a student registration campaign.

DPS treasurer Craig Jones said 2,069 students who live within the district’s boundaries attended any of 36 private schools via an Educational Choice Scholarship (EdChoice) in 2014, a 326-student increase from 2012.

Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program was created to give students from underperforming public schools the option to attend participating private schools. The registration period for 2015-16 began Feb. 1.

Students are eligible if their public school ranks in the bottom 10 percent of the state in Performance Index, or if the school earned Ds or Fs in Performance Index and Value-Added progress two of the past three years, according to the Ohio Department of Education. The student must apply to and be accepted by a private school.

ODE said last month that local students are eligible for 2015-16 vouchers if they attend Trotwood’s Madison Park Elementary, Jefferson Twp.’s Blairwood Elementary, or any of 22 Dayton Public Schools.

Matt Sableski, principal of Carroll High School, a Catholic school in Riverside, said about 90 of his 720 students attend via the EdChoice program, and he expects that number to climb to about 100 this fall.

“The majority of students who come to us on the EdChoice scholarship are very successful,” Sableski said, adding that their success or failure hinges on the same issues as Carroll’s other students. “If you don’t do your homework, don’t come to school, you’re not going to be successful. If you are a family interested in a quality education and you feel you’re not getting it, and you’re eligible, I’d encourage you to pursue it.”

Jill Moberley, spokeswoman for Dayton Public Schools, said DPS is gearing up for student registration that begins March 2, using a billboard campaign with the slogan, “Enroll, Commit, Succeed.”

“When students enroll (in DPS) from the beginning, commit to attending school every day, and work with their teacher, they’ll succeed and graduate career- and college-ready,” Moberley said.

How it works

Students are eligible for EdChoice if they are currently attending an ODE-designated struggling school, or if they would be assigned to a designated school next year, or if they are attending a charter school in lieu of attending a designated school.

The student must choose a private school, apply for admission and be accepted, at which point the school will help the student apply for the EdChoice scholarship. The state offers up to 60,000 EdChoice vouchers but has never needed that many, with 18,080 in use last year.

“We do not take everybody (who applies), but we don’t turn away a ton of students here at Carroll,” Sableski said of EdChoice applicants. “If they have special needs that we can’t service, or some students who have a history of excessive absences or discipline problems — things like that we wouldn’t take.”

Some Catholic schools said the EdChoice program has stabilized their enrollment. Karyn Hecker, principal at Immaculate Conception in Dayton, said 187 of the school’s 212 students attend on the EdChoice program, and most couldn’t afford the school without the scholarship.

The scholarship provides up to $4,250 per year for elementary schoolers — enough to cover the full tuition at many private schools. For high school students, the scholarship is $5,000 per year, which is $2,500 to $4,500 less than tuition costs at local Catholic high schools.

Sableski said for students whose families make less than 200 percent of the poverty line, the remaining tuition cost is covered by EdChoice’s newer “expansion” scholarship, leaving the family to pay only miscellaneous school fees. Families above 200 percent of poverty are responsible for the remaining tuition.

Effect on DPS

DPS’ districtwide state test results have been poor for years, with the Performance Index stuck at 75, the second-worst in Ohio last year. Students at five Dayton schools have performed well enough that their schools are not EdChoice-eligible — Charity Adams, Horace Mann, Valerie, Stivers and Ponitz.

The only DPS school that was newly added to the EdChoice list for next year was Thurgood Marshall. Jones pointed out that most of Ohio’s other large urban districts saw four or five more schools added to the list for 2015-16.

Moberley said one issue that contributes to student struggles is a lack of continuity in the education process.

“We’re a city that offers many choices, but sometimes our high mobility rate — where students leave for a new school then come back, then try a charter school and come back — compromises the continuity of child’s education,” Moberley said.

Jones, DPS’ treasurer, said the loss of 2,000 students via the vouchers means the loss of $8 million in state funding. Timing is also a key issue, since there is no formal deadline by which students must declare their intention.

“Staffing is a challenge because our enrollment, and therefore staffing needs, are uncertain and continue to fluctuate,” Jones said.

Gov. John Kasich’s new proposed budget would increase the amount of the high school EdChoice voucher from $5,000 per year to $5,700. Jones said if that measure is approved, his early projection — that another 125 to 200 DPS students would leave via EdChoice this fall — might be too low.

About the Author