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EdChoice voucher applications delayed 60 Days

By La Prensa Staff

 

Jan. 31, 2020: Latino parents and others who decided to pursue an EdChoice voucher for their child’s future education will have to wait two more months to see what their options will be.

 

The Ohio General Assembly at the eleventh hour pushed back the scheduled Feb. 1 start date for private school voucher applications, so state lawmakers could buy some time to work out a more permanent fix to a vast expansion of the EdChoice program. Had it been left alone, the program would have ballooned from about 500 public schools to 1,227 school buildings affected.


Sen. Teresa Fedor

 

So now parents won’t know until April if their kids are eligible to receive a tax-funded voucher toward private school tuition. Only those already receiving a voucher automatically qualify for another academic year this fall. The rest have to wait to see what a legislative fix looks like.

 

“I’ve been given no choice but to vote for this patchwork fix,” said State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), a staunch voucher opponent who backed the delay. Sen. Fedor led public outcry over the possible voucher expansion, then served on a conference committee which failed to reach a compromise acceptable to both the Ohio House and Senate. One proposed compromise aimed to freeze expansion while trying to increase individual student eligibility.

 

State lawmakers seem to agree on a desire to halt the expansion of school buildings considered “underperforming” on state report cards and move the EdChoice school voucher back to more of an income-based system. But the House and Senate disagree on how to get there, because some income eligibility could move more middle-class families from wealthy suburbs into the fold.

 

As it stands now, there is a cost shift from local public-school districts to private schools of $4,650 for each student in K-8 and $6,000 for a high school student who receives an EdChoice voucher. Superintendents argue struggling districts cannot afford that hit to already overburdened school budgets. So lawmakers are trying to find a way to shift that cost back to state government.

 

Ohio’s EdChoice vouchers began in 2005 to give students in struggling schools money to attend private schools. But tougher changes in state report cards and new state laws conspired to create the chaos and confusion now confronting state lawmakers.

 

The rancor and debate between the Ohio House and Senate even prompted President Trump’s education secretary to make a few calls to select state legislators hoping to keep vouchers intact.

 

Gov. Mike DeWine signed the legislative voucher delay the same day the bill passed the Ohio Senate. But the governor has not yet entered the public debate over the school voucher system.

 

There remains fear among some state lawmakers there could be a court challenge to the 60-day delay, possibly from parents or a school district whose lives and budgets for next year are now on hold. In the rush to pass some sort of bill, there may be holes ripe for a lawsuit, they contend.

 

The 60-day delay got panned by school voucher backers and opponents alike, including statements by the president of the state teacher’s union and the head of Citizens for American Values, who each expressed displeasure that everyone is left in limbo.

 

But there may be an even bigger school voucher battle on the horizon. While Ohio lawmakers were arguing in legislative chambers, there was a similar argument in a courtroom before nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. But this court battle has much broader implications.

 

Kendra Espinoza, a divorced mother of two, is the lead plaintiff in a high court challenge of a provision in the Montana state constitution that bars aid to religious schools.

 

“We are a Christian family and I want those values taught at school, Ms. Espinoza told reporters on the steps of the Supreme Court. “Our morals as a society come from the Bible. I feel we are being excluded simply because we are people of religious background.”

 

37 other states have no-aid state constitutional provisions similar to the one in Montana. School choice advocates and conservative religious groups have tried to get rid of those provisions for some time. Those groups could win when a decision is announced in June.

 

Five Supreme Court justices attended private Catholic schools at some point in their upbringing. Some were very vocal during oral arguments, one of them even referring to the parochial school public funding ban as “religious bigotry.”

 

The school voucher case, on a larger scale, could also further tear down the traditional “wall of separation” between church and state. Conservative justices, who comprise a court majority, have long been troubled by religious institutions being denied equal access to government benefits (such as vouchers), which is seen as a violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. Such a decision could open the door to a wide variety of state programs, including many related to education and other social services for religious organizations and churches.

 

 

 

 
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Revised: 02/04/20 12:43:54 -0800.

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