Legislative Watch – March 3, 2023

Legislature Considering Harmful Voucher Expansion Proposals 

Several proposals in the Ohio legislature seek to advance massive expansions in eligibility for school vouchers. Voucher programs use public taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition for K-12 students. This comes at the expense of the approximately 90% of students who attend Ohio’s public schools. Rather than expanding voucher eligibility, now is the time to fully implement the Fair School Funding Plan to meet the needs of Ohio’s students.

Legislative proposals to expand voucher eligibility include:

  • HB 33- Governor DeWine’s executive budget proposal calls for an increase in the eligibility for the income-based EdChoice voucher program from 250% of federal poverty guidelines ($75,000 for a family of four) to 400% ($120,000 for a family of four).
  • SB 11- Sponsored by Senator Sandra O’Brien (R- Rome), SB 11 allows for universal eligibility under the EdChoice voucher program. All K-12 students, regardless of family income, would be eligible for vouchers. The bill also increases the homeschooling tax credit from $250 to $2,000. The fiscal note on the bill estimates an annual cost of $536 million a year just to pay the cost of vouchers for students who currently attend private schools.
  • HB 11- Sponsored by Representatives Riordan McClain (R- Nevada) and Marilyn John (R- Shelby), HB 11 is a universal voucher bill that would make all K-12 students eligible for a new “backpack scholarship.” If enacted, the bill would provide funds for tuition at private schools and for homeschooling. Unlike current voucher programs, HB 11 would pay for tuition at both chartered and non-chartered private schools. Largely unregulated non-chartered schools are not eligible to participate in EdChoice. The estimated cost of HB 11 is expected to be much higher than other proposals because of this.

Click here to contact your legislators and urge them to oppose harmful provisions such as universal vouchers.

Senate Passes Bill Changing Powers and Duties of State Board of Education

On Wednesday, March 1, 2023, the Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 1 by a 26-7, party-line vote. The bill, sponsored by Senator William Reineke (R- Tiffin), would change the powers and duties of the State Board of Education and transfer most of them to a newly created cabinet-level department under the Governor. The bill creates the Department of Education and Workforce which would oversee most education policy in the state. The State Board of Education would continue to exist, but its duties would largely be limited to licensure, educator discipline, evaluation and school district territory transfers.

In testimony before the Senate Education Committee, OEA outlined a number of concerns with the proposal. SB 1 proposes a dramatic shift in the way that education is overseen and supported in Ohio. OEA urged lawmakers to work collaboratively with education stakeholders so that any changes were well understood. Further, OEA urged that the voice of educators be protected and that educators have a meaningful impact on policy decisions. Specifically, OEA asked the bill to be amended in the following ways:

  • Leave rule making authority with the State Board of Education. This offers open hearings, a public process, and more transparency.
  • Leave the development of academic standards and model curriculum with the State Board of Education. Educators have a key role in developing content standards. The deliberative process of SBOE allows for public input and transparency.
  • Build in stakeholder group representation (including OEA) during the transition period and thereafter.
  • Remove provisions that lift oversight and prohibit further rules regarding home education.

An amendment was adopted by the committee to allow more public input during the rulemaking process and allow for public meetings to hear stakeholder concerns. Otherwise, SB 1 is largely unchanged. The bill will now go to the Ohio House for hearings. The House Primary and Secondary Education Committee has had a number of hearings on House Bill 12, which is companion legislation to SB 1.

School District Funding Spreadsheets Released

The Ohio Office of Budget and Management (OBM) recently released funding spreadsheets for school districts under House Bill 33, the Governor’s budget proposal for Fiscal Years 2024 and 2025.  The spreadsheets for school district estimates and JVSD estimates show total state foundation aid for traditional districts increasing minimally by 2.1% in FY 2024 and 1.5% in FY 2025. It is important to note that these spreadsheets will change as modifications are made to the bill throughout the budget debate.  

OEA believes the Ohio General Assembly must prioritize state funding for public schools.  While the proposal contained in House Bill 33 continues the phase-in (years 3 and 4) of the Fair School Funding Plan, it does not provide needed updates to the base cost components.  The salary inputs used are from FY 2018 while the property and income values are based on more current data.  This results in the local share of funding education unfairly increasing and the state responsibility decreasing.  OEA is urging legislators to make necessary updates to the components of the funding model and fully implement the plan this biennium.