Section: News

Ohio lawmakers debate over public school voucher program

After contentious debates, the Ohio State House voted on Thursday, Jan. 30 to delay the application period for its EdChoice Scholarships program until April 1, leaving many families unsure where their children will attend school this fall. In response, the Christian organization Citizens for Community Values (CCV) filed an Ohio Supreme Court lawsuit on Feb. 3 against the state, arguing that the law pushing the EdChoice window from Feb. 1 to April 1 is unlawful. On Wednesday, the Ohio House offered its own voucher plan, which passed with an 88 to 7 margin.

EdChoice Scholarships allow those in public school districts deemed “low-performing” by the state to receive vouchers and attend nearby private schools instead. Receiving vouchers, though, is contingent upon family income, meaning that families can only receive vouchers up to a certain income level. Additionally, lawmakers have disagreed over which districts qualify as “low-performing.” If they cannot reach a consensus by the vote in April, the number of schools eligible will increase from 517 to 1,227. This expanded list would also “include schools in some of [the] highest-rated districts in the state,” according to the Columbus Dispatch.

The debate between the House and the Senate represents a larger debate between supporters of so-called school choice, mainly conservatives, and those on the left who argue that voucher programs of this nature increase inequity in the school system.

The State House’s plan, offered as an amendment to Senate Bill 89, would increase the family income standard, phase out performance standards and rename the EdChoice Scholarship to the Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship. While members of the Senate expressed interest in reviewing the House’s new bill last night—which they were likely to reject—the House never sent the bill to the Senate, according to the Plain Dealer.

The Ohio Senate passed legislation on Jan. 28 that restricts voucher use to 425 schools, provides funding to schools negatively impacted by the 2019 voucher program and raises the scholarship amount paid by each voucher. However, House legislators remain conflicted over the systems used to rate school districts and funding sources for vouchers.

Those opposing the delay argue that House representatives should have held a vote on individual proposals within the Senate bill, a practice known as an emergency clause vote. In remarks made outside the Ohio Supreme Court on Monday after filing the lawsuit, CCV President Aaron Baer said legislators “cannot take away the vouchers from parents at this point because they have a vested right in it.”

The lawsuit filed by CCV is called an action in mandamus, meaning that it is intended to compel a government body to carry out an action that they are legally obligated to do. The lawsuit will hinge, therefore, on whether the Court rules that a timely passage of the bill is legally obligatory or is an act of discretion.

When asked by Cleveland.com reporters about the delay and subsequent lawsuit, Gov. Mike DeWine said, “We need to move forward. We need to be able to resolve this impasse between the Senate and the House.”

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