Upcoming EdChoice Voucher
Expansion Stirs Debate
By La Prensa Staff
Backers of public education are doing everything they can to
force changes to the EdChoice school voucher system in
Ohio before the program expands Feb. 1, 2020 to include
even more schools.
The Toledo metro area has long been at the epicenter of the
school choice debate, starting as the cradle of the charter
school movement nearly two decades ago. The start of education
vouchers in Ohio about 15 years ago only added to that debate,
which is reaching a fever pitch again.
A public hearing held Tuesday, January 21 at the downtown Toledo
public library, showed just how emotional the debate has become
in Ohio when it comes to school choice vouchers versus the value
of a public education. State senator Teresa Fedor
(D-Toledo, 11th District), a former teacher, hosted
the forum to provide the public a wider view of what EdChoice
is doing to public schools.
“A lot of the provisions that we had prior to this expansion
were changed without any input, any discussion, and knowledge
this would happen, occurred in the eleventh hour of the (state)
budget (last summer), so this has been a surprise attack on
public education,” she said.
Sen. Fedor also is leading the charge among Democratic state
lawmakers, hoping to force the Ohio General Assembly to scale
back the program before Toledo Public Schools (TPS) and
suburban districts lose even more students to parochial,
private, and charter schools, along with the vital state
education funding that follows them elsewhere.
TPS board of education member Bob Vásquez, Lourdes Santiago,
and Martha Delgado were among Latino leaders present at
the public forum, where 150 people were in the audience.
Citizens for Community Values
held a press conference at the Ohio Statehouse the same day to
urge state lawmakers to leave the expansion of the EdChoice
voucher program as it stands now. The group argues any
changes made now could threaten a family’s access to an
education that best meets the needs of their students. Many of
those parents spent months deciding what to do as they intend to
apply for a voucher once the process opens Feb. 1.
Toledo single mom Andrea De la Roca spoke at that press
conference, emphasizing that school vouchers allow her to
exercise her Catholic faith in pursuing a religious-based
education for her three children, now ages 16, 14, and 11. Her
two sons attend St. John’s Jesuit High School on
EdChoice scholarships. Her youngest daughter already attends
St. Benedict Catholic School, but will become eligible
for an EdChoice voucher next year.
“I was born Catholic. I went to Catholic school in Guatemala, so
I wanted the same experience for my children,” said Ms. De la
Roca. “Faith for us is very important, so without a scholarship,
I don’t know what I would do. Of course, I would try my best to
keep them where they are because they are accustomed to that
environment, but it would be extremely difficult.”
School choice backers long have claimed vouchers give families
the chance to choose the most appropriate education for their
children—and that competition would force innovation and
improvements in public school districts.
Until vouchers and charter schools came along, most Latino
families, with limited transportation, sent their children to a
neighborhood TPS school.
Now those same families have plenty of options and opportunities
from which to choose in addition to a neighborhood public
school: Queen of Apostles Catholic School [K-8] with the
help of an EdChoice voucher; Escuela Smart Bilingual School
[K-5], which was folded into TPS as an academy for the first
time this year after starting as a charter school; and L.
Hollingsworth School [K-8], a charter school in East Toledo
with a heavy Latino enrollment.
Traditionally, the state offers education vouchers to families
in poorly performing public school districts. The legislature
has expanded the definition of a low-performing school, which
has widened the list of districts with underperforming schools
from 40 in the fall of 2018 to 139 last year to around
400—nearly two-thirds of all school districts in Ohio—by the
next academic year.
“Ohio has artificially manipulated our report cards to do
exactly what it is doing now: taking away needed funding for
public schools in order to hand it off to private schools,” said
Sen. Fedor, while pointing out those report cards have changed
six times in the last several years.
The Ohio Dept. of Education released a list in November
of more than 1,200 individual schools now deemed
“underperforming,” based on their latest report-card grades.
That more than doubles the number of individual schools eligible
for EdChoice vouchers. That now affects more deeply
schools in wealthier suburban districts that usually do well as
a whole on district report cards.
“There’s no apples-to-apples comparison, because there isn’t a
report card for EdChoice students in those schools,”
said. Sen. Fedor. “There’s very little accountability. There’s
an assumption that any school is better than a public school.”
“It is those high stakes tests that are being used to label
schools as failing and certainly, when that happens, there is
financial impact on all schools. Really, we are at a crisis
point,” said Dan Greenberg, a Sylvania Southview High
School English teacher and founder of the grassroots group
Northwest Ohio Friends of Public Education.
For the first time, Springfield High School will be on
the EdChoice voucher list. The number of Sylvania schools
will expand from two to three. That district lost 63
students—including 22 entering kindergarten—to vouchers this
academic year, costing the district $276,000 in funding.
Another change in the state’s voucher system would allow private
school students who’ve never attended public school to be
eligible for EdChoice scholarships, further eroding state
education funding for public schools. That public-school
district pays $4,650 per K-8 student toward tuition and $6,000
for high-school students. If those amounts are more than the
per-pupil state aid that district receives, more of their state
aid is deducted to make up that difference.
“Schools are now paying for students who never set foot into a
public school,” said Sen. Fedor.
“While voucher proponents will claim that they want to expand
opportunities for low-income children, the truth is vouchers are
really about subsidizing tuition for students in private
schools,” said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio
Opponents also claim the formula diverts local levy dollars
approved by voters to those same private schools. There is
research that shows that total price tag to be $330 million
“So, the idea that vouchers help students escape from failing
public schools is a myth,” said Sen. Fedor. “It would be wrong
to assume students eligible for EdChoice vouchers are
getting a better education, especially on state reading and math
A compromise has been crafted, but there’s no indication whether
the Ohio General Assembly will act in time by the end of
January. There’s not enough time remaining for a stand-alone
bill, so the compromise would have to be added as an amendment
to existing legislation up for a vote.
The proposal would remove from the EdChoice list any
school which earned an overall grade of A, B, C, or D on a
building report card—and keep it that way for three years.
Additionally, only incoming freshmen at private high schools
would be eligible for an EdChoice voucher if they’ve
never attended public school. The deal puts $10 million in state
funding toward that provision.
The three-year freeze provides a window of opportunity to fix
either the state’s education report cards once and for all, or
craft a more palatable state school funding formula, perhaps
On the flip side, income-based vouchers would expand to 250
percent of the poverty level, or about $50,000 for a family of
four. That is to satisfy lawmakers who want to expand to higher
income levels, as well as families who may be affected by a
drastic change in voucher expansion.
The proposal will be closely watched by both sides of the
debate, as the Feb. 1 opening of the EdChoice application
process rapidly approaches.