Ohio Senate OKs revamp of eligibility for school vouchers

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A proposal to revamp who can qualify for Ohio’s biggest school voucher program has cleared the Republican-led state Senate over Democrats’ dissent and is scheduled to go to a vote in the House on Thursday.

The program known as EdChoice funds private school tuition for students from poor-performing public schools. That eligibility list was slated to more than double to over 1,200 schools under current criteria, including some in wealthier areas, which raised concerns about funding and fairness.

Instead, the list would shrink to about 470 schools in just 87 of Ohio’s 600-plus districts under the overhauled criteria, according to an analysis by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission. Students would be eligible for EdChoice funding if their public schools rank in the bottom fifth on a performance index and meet certain metrics that reflect poverty levels in their districts.

The legislation also would expand eligibility for income-based EdChoice scholarships, allowing initial eligibility for families making up to 250% of federal poverty guidelines.

A statement from Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, said lawmakers listened to input from families and educators to produce “the right solution that both supports our public schools and protects educational choice for Ohio’s families.”

But Sen. Teresa Fedor, of Toledo, the top Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, objected in a statement that the measure “does not reflect what public school advocates expressed” in weeks of testimony on the issue. She also noted that lawmakers stripped language that would have dissolved the state-appointed academic distress commissions that the state has used to intervene in several repeatedly poor-performing districts.