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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ohio Lawmakers Devise New Way to Screw Public Schools

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2011 at 3:26 PM

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Grumpy voters who defeated more than half of all school levies on the ballot in Ohio earlier this month aren’t going to be happy to learn about the legislature’s latest gimmick to yank school funding and necessitate — yes! — still more levies.

It recently introduced HB 136, which would make vouchers to attend private schools — currently promoted as a lifeline for poor kids in failing school systems — available in all Ohio school districts to families with incomes up to $95,000. The amount of each voucher, ranging from $3,500 to nearly $5,800, would be subtracted from the home district’s state funding.

Adding to the fun: In most cases the voucher would be worth more than the district receives per student — meaning one student could soak up the state funds of multiple students to transfer from, say, Avon High to St. Ignatius.

Wealthier districts, which receive less state funding per student, would be especially hard hit. For example, Rocky River schools, which earned an “excellent with distinction” rating, would lose all state funding if as few as 8 percent of its students wanted vouchers, since it gets only $359 per kid.

Many wealthier districts also tend to be pretty good at math — and they don’t like the way the figures are adding up. The Solon board, whose schools are rated “excellent,” has passed a resolution opposing the measure; if it were to pass, all of the district’s state money could go to 9 percent of its students. After looking at the math, state reps Marlene Anielski (who represents Solon) and Nan Baker (whose district includes Rocky River) broke with fellow Republicans to vote against the bill in committee. It passed, and so will be taken up by the whole legislature in the new year.

Baker’s research showed that the impact on her own district’s schools — which also include Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Westlake, and Bay Village — would be a mess they don’t need.

“I am a school-choice advocate for schools that are underperforming,” she says. “All five of the schools in my district were given ‘excellent’ or ‘excellent with distinction.’ We get very little state dollars, but finding another way to reduce those state dollars when they are doing their job doesn’t seem fair to me.”

Baker points out that more than one in four Westlake students already attends a private school, presumably “for reasons outside of education,” she says.

“If we were to supplement that [with vouchers], that would be many dollars that the schools would lose over time if the trend continues [for parents] to choose to send their kids to private school.”

Making sense of Anielski’s stance isn’t such an easy task: Prior to her “no” vote, she was one of the bill’s co-sponsors. She did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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