Changes debated for Ohio’s EdChoice school voucher program

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Just days before the next application window opens for Ohio’s biggest school voucher program, state lawmakers are considering changing the eligibility guidelines to avoid a sharp increase in qualifying locations.

The program, known as EdChoice, is supposed to help fund private school tuition for students from poor-performing districts and schools. That list of places was slated to more than double to over 1,200 schools for the next academic year, which raised concerns about funding and fairness, and prompted proposals to avoid such a spike.

Public school officials complained that expanded eligibility would funnel more state money away from their facilities and to private, often religious, schools. Some of those officials pointed to problems with the state report card system, which is used to grade schools and helps determine EdChoice eligibility. They noted there were instances where a low grade in a single category got public schools added to the list even though they or their districts were rated as high-performing overall.

The Republican-led Senate on Tuesday approved a proposal to instead exclude such schools from the program and shrink the list of eligible locations by several dozen schools, while also expanding eligibility for a related income-based scholarship program and providing $30 million for public schools to help ease the financial impact of voucher deductions.

The House rejected that proposal Wednesday, leaving a committee of lawmakers from both chambers trying to work toward an agreement.

To get the changes considered quickly before EdChoice applications start Saturday, lawmakers had added the proposals to an existing bill concerning issues in higher education.

School choice advocates have criticized lawmakers for the timing, arguing that parents have been anticipating expanded eligibility and making plans for months. One group, Citizens for Community Values, has suggested it might consider suing over the matter.