MOUNT VERNON — In this time of economic stress, taxpayers are rejecting the passage of levies to operate their local schools, and the school boards of more than 200 of the state’s 600 public school districts have passed formal resolutions opposing the passage of HB 136 which has been dubbed the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings Scholarship Program.
The new statewide program would allow any student in grades kindergarten through 12 to use a voucher, funded by public taxpayer money, to attend private or parochial schools instead of their resident school districts. The only qualifier is that the family’s annual income must be less than $95,000. Under a four-year phase-in schedule, students currently enrolled in private schools would be eligible for the voucher, and if the voucher is for more than what the private school charges for tuition and fees, the extra money will be placed in an education savings account for the student.
Will HB 136 result in any taxpayer savings?
Professional organizations such as the Ohio School Boards Association, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, which object to HB 136 because it deducts the cost of the vouchers from the resident school district’s funding, say no. An analysis by the Education Tax Policy Institute determined that HB 136 could create approximately $480 million in new costs for Ohio’s education funding system as the bill’s provisions are phased in over a very short period of time. The additional costs would come as the approximated 181,000 students who already attend private or parochial schools suddenly become eligible for taxpayer-subsidized vouchers. The nearly $500 million estimate does not include the cost related to students who may choose to transfer from a public school to a private one. ETPI estimates the state will spend an additional $850 million to move 88,500 students from public schools to private or parochial schools.
Article 6 of the Ohio Constitution states: The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state; but no religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this state.
OASBO maintains that HB 136 “turns the state’s obligation to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education into a private benefit that could impact every school district in the state. ... Vouchers force taxpayers to support two school systems; one public and one private. We believe that privatization in the name of choice jeopardizes the good of the whole. By diverting dollars for a few, the ability of public school districts to meet federal and state standards is compromised and students’ educational experiences will suffer. ... Public money should be invested in strengthening the schools that educate the vast majority of our students — our public schools.”
Educators and school administraors around the state are asking school district residents to contact their legislators and let the representatives know how they feel about state and local tax dollars being used to subsidize private school tuition.