Students at about 470 Ohio public schools will be eligible to use EdChoice school vouchers – slightly fewer than last year – under a bill that both the Ohio House and Senate passed last week.

This represents a reversal from the 1,200 schools that would have been eligible under an EdChoice expansion that was set to take effect this year and whose implementation was delayed by the state legislature.

Yitz Frank, executive director of Agudath Israel of Ohio, which represents Orthodox day schools and families, said it’s difficult to determine the exact impacts of the new eligibility rules on day schools and families.

“It’s still too early to tell,” he told the CJN. “I think that all in all, there’s a lot of eligibility in here, and I guess a lot of predictability for public schools as well. So, it’s hard to know whether it’s positive or slightly negative or status quo.”

An amendment offered to Senate Bill 89 by Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, adopted two criteria to determine which public schools would be eligible to send students who choose to use vouchers to private or parochial schools:

The school district composition must have at least 20% of its students Title 1 eligible, and the student’s building performance must have been listed in the lowest 20% for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, according to a news release on Huffman’s state website.

In addition, income-based eligibility for vouchers – which go to students whose families have low income regardless of the public school they would attend – will increase from 200% to 250% of federal income guidelines. Frank said raising the eligibility on the income-based voucher will allow about 50% of the families in the state to participate, at least theoretically.

“There’s still a cap on the number of scholarships that are allowed to be used of 60,000 statewide,” Frank said. “But in terms of families that are eligible, you know it’s a pretty broad-based policy, which I think is a good thing, as opposed to a policy that kind of impacts ... pockets of population depending on where you live.”

The program awards up to $4,650 to students in kindergarten through eighth grades at participating private and parochial schools for state funds as tuition. Students who are in grades nine to 12 at participating non-public schools receive up to $6,000 as tuition from the state.

If per pupil funding at the student’s home school district is less than those amounts, the school district must contribute the balance.

Votes in both the House and Senate broke largely along party lines with Republicans generally voting yes and Democrats voting no.

Gov. Mike DeWine must sign the bill prior to it taking effect.

Frank said the criteria under Senate Bill 89 has one other advantage.

“It also disconnects in large part the eligibility for that program from the state report card, which I think is very important because that created a lot of stress on that system,” he said. “Obviously a lot of schools generally don’t like being on that list and caused them I would say to attack or at least question the integrity of the state report card.”

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