Ohio's School Voucher Debate
Vouchers At the Center of Ohio Budget Debate in 2023
Over the last 20 plus years, Ohio's school voucher program has gradually expanded with each passing state budget. What started out in the 1990's as a pilot program designed to help impoverished families trapped in poor performing districts has gradually morphed over time to an ever expanding program that has ballooned to a taxpayer funded expense of $350 million during the last school year. Over the last three budget cycles, the Ohio General Assembly has significantly expanded eligibility criteria and has demonstrated a clear intent in H.B. 290 to make educational vouchers universal for all Ohio students regardless of residency or family income levels. H.B. 290, commonly referred to as the Backpack Bill, is all but guaranteed to be reintroduced when the budget making process begins in the General Assembly in February. Should universal vouchers become law, all private school students currently not eligible for a voucher would qualify to receive one. It is estimated to cost Ohio taxpayers an additional $1 billion per year to fund those students currently in private schools and not eligible for vouchers. School funding experts question if such a move is affordable as it creates a sizeable rebate/refund program for families that are already paying their tuition expenses out of their own pocket.
Legislative leaders espouse the notion that "the money should follow the child", which under this premise, would mean Ohio taxpayers are responsible for funding three types of school systems, their local public schools, Ohio charter schools, and private schools. Such a system creates many questions that Ohio citizens should ponder earnestly.
For example, should the money follow the child? Will private schools be subject to the same levels of accountability as local public schools? Should Ohio taxpayers fund the private education for families with financial means? If the State diverts hundreds of millions of dollars to private schools via vouchers, what might be the impact on local public schools? What might be the impact on local property taxes? Will private schools be required to accept all students using a voucher? Does Ohio allow such a transfer of taxpayer funds for other public goods such as parks, police, and fire? These questions are just a sampling of important considerations in the voucher debate.
Last year, an ever growing list of Ohio public schools initiated a lawsuit against the State of Ohio over the unconstitutionality of the voucher program. Simply, the belief is that Vouchers Hurt Ohio, that the State voucher program is unconstitutional, and Ohio should not be subsidizing private education. State supreme courts in West Virgina and Kentucky in 2022 ruled their state voucher programs unconstitutional. LaBrae is a participating district in the Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit. The Board of Education believes that our participation is an important step to protecting public education and protecting Ohio taxpayers. You can learn more about the Vouchers Hurt Ohio effort by clicking on the picture below which will redirect you to their website. The unceasing growth of the voucher program has created scrutiny, and in light of an unwilling legislature to curb the growth of vouchers, the only avenue for clarity on the legality of the program is through the courts, thus the Voucher Hurt Ohio suit against the State.