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Backpack Bill would come at enormous cost

[February 15, 2022] The Ohio Education Association (OEA) is sounding the alarm about the grievous consequences House Bill 290 – known as the Backpack Bill — would bring for Ohio’s children and communities. HB 290 would drive a massive hole in the state budget with little accountability for the money, all while leading to greater racial segregation and worse student outcomes, OEA leaders warn.

“Ohio lawmakers have a constitutional responsibility to fund Ohio’s public schools and ensure a high-quality education for all of Ohio’s kids. HB 290 would force local communities to rely even more heavily on local property taxes to fund schools for the 90 percent of Ohio children who attend public schools. There’s evidence under our current voucher system that public schools out-perform the private schools,” OEA President Scott DiMauro said, citing a Cincinnati Enquirer investigation that found nearly 90% of all voucher students do worse on state tests than students in traditional public schools in the same zip codes.

“Dumping precious resources into a universal voucher system that provides zero auditing requirements for the private schools that would rake in the taxpayers’ cash is just wrong,” DiMauro added. “This is especially true now, when Ohio finally has a public school funding system worth investing in after the adoption of the Fair School Funding Plan in the last state budget. Our lawmakers must hold up their end of the deal to fully fund that system before going off on yet another ideological misadventure with our hard-earned tax dollars. Taxpayers don’t need another ECOT-level disaster and scandal.”

Disturbingly, even with these vouchers, most families still couldn’t afford tuition at the private schools in their communities, and this exponential expansion of a vouchers system in the state would only further contribute to racial segregation in our schools. In Ohio, only about 50% of the subsidies currently being taken are being taken by non-white parents, even though the communities where about 95% of the vouchers come from are nearly 70% non-white. Only 37% of students in Lima City Schools are white, yet Temple Christian School gets $242,000 in taxpayer tuition subsidies and took 100% white students. Likewise, Lima Central Catholic takes more than 70% white students, St. Gerard and St. Charles take about 80% white students. Simply put, these private schools do not reflect the racial makeup of the communities that are forced to pay their bills.

“Ohio taxpayers can’t afford to shell out more money for voucher programs that weaken the public schools that serve the vast majority of Ohio’s kids,” DiMauro said. “We’ve been down this road before and we know it is a dead end in Ohio’s budget. When only 74% of students were eligible for government subsidized private school tuition in 2017’s SB 85, the non-partisan Ohio Legislative Service Commission estimated the cost as high as $1.2 billion. And that was with lower subsidy amounts. This bill will cost (conservatively) two or even three times that amount. Asking Ohioans to pay for that at the expense of their neighborhood public schools is irresponsible and wrong.”

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