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Guest column/HB 136 does nothing to help public education in Ohio

October 8, 2011
The Herald-Star

The Ohio General Assembly is currently considering House Bill 136, a bill designed to expand vouchers to permit Ohio's public school students to receive public vouchers to attend private or parochial schools.

Despite continuing evidence that vouchers have failed to have a positive impact on student achievement, Ohio legislators persist in their efforts to expand voucher programs,

HB 136 is just the latest, and to date, the worst voucher legislation to be introduced. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, will:

Expand vouchers to students in any school in Ohio, regardless of the report card rating of the school or district.

Allow students currently attending private schools to receive vouchers.

Allow parents to "bank" any excess dollars whenever the private school tuition is less than the voucher amount.

Permit the banked dollars to be used for tuition at other private elementary, secondary of post-secondary schools in Ohio.

Deduct funding for the voucher from the resident school district funds, including revenues raised through local tax sources.

Offer no local control or accountability for the expenditure of these local dollars.

The bill has only one qualifier - in order to be eligible for a voucher, the family income cannot exceed $95,000 adjusted gross income. The bill strikes at the very heart of Ohio's constitutional requirements to maintain an educational system that provides free public education to all students.

Local school districts will be required to transfer state and local dollars to an unknown number of private and parochial schools with no ability to monitor or control those expenditures or programs. Public education funds will be diverted from the majority of school children and be directed to a tiny, select group of children enrolling in private schools. At a time when school districts are bracing for even more cuts in funding and are gearing up for new standards, precious financial resources should not be diverted to private and parochial schools in the name of choice.

But, whose choice is it? Many supporters argue that it's the parent's choice. But, is that the case? As public schools, we must open our doors to all of the children of all of the people. This is not true for private and parochial schools. These schools do not accept some students, and they also remove some students they do accept and return them to the public schools for a variety of reasons - poor attendance, low achievement, disciplinary problems and education needs they are unwilling or unable to meet.

This opinion is not simply mine. According to a recent survey conducted on behalf of the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, the general public, by a margin of 60 percent to 33.5 percent, does not support the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize tuition to private or parochial schools. Further, the same survey shows that the general public believes that students attending such private and parochial schools should be subject to the same testing and assessment requirements as those attending public schools.

This is a message that needs to be understood by Ohio's Legislature. HB 136 is an unwarranted, unprecedented and unwise assault on public education, the cornerstone of American democracy. The Ohio House Education Committee already has passed the bill by a narrow margin and is now awaiting action by the full House. On behalf of Ohio's nearly 1.9 million children, make your voices known to your legislators now.

(Johnson is president of the Ohio School Boards Association.)

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