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Ohio’s Proposed Voucher Law HB136 — Should Tax Money Be Used To Fund Religious Education?

Ohio’s Republican dominated Assembly seems intent on raising the ante concerning privatization of public education. The Education Committee of the Ohio House has approved radical legislation, HB136, that, if ratified by the Ohio Assembly, would greatly expand the current state funded “voucher” program. HB136 makes the entire amount of state money now allocated to local schools available to fund tuition for private schools, enough to fund the private school education of over one million students.

Ohio’s current voucher plan — The EdChoice Scholarship Program — according to ODE, is limited, “to students who attend persistently underperforming public schools. The scholarship, sometimes called a voucher, must be used to attend a participating chartered nonpublic school.” This past June, Governor Kasich signed legislation that greatly increase the number of vouchers in Ohio from 14,000 to 60,000.

In the new voucher plan, students in all Ohio school districts, high performing as well as low, may claim the state money now allocated to the district they attend to pay for tuition to private schools. The amount of the scholarship a student may claim will vary, depending on the family income of the participating student, but, it looks like the average voucher will be about $4500 per child per year.

Greg at Plunderbund has an interesting analysis of HB136 that uses my neighboring school district in South Dayton, Centerville, as an example. Centerville is rated as “Excellent with Distinction.” If HB136 is ratified, the entire $9.6 million that Centerville receives each year in state funding will be made available to pay for tuition to private schools. Scholarships will be worth about $4,626 per student, per year. If the entire $9.6 million is spent on private school tuition vouchers, 24% of Centerville’s students could leave Centerville public school and attend a private school. The dollar amount of vouchers provided to Centerville students will be subtracted from the amount of state money allocated to Centerville public schools.

I’ve not read what provision HB136 makes for the potential situation of a school district having such great demand for private school vouchers that its available state money is not adequate, but, I’m guessing, some type of lottery would be used, as in “Waiting For Superman.”

Republican Matt Huffman from Allen County (Lima) is the main sponsor of HB136. Just last week, according to their web-site, “School Choice Ohio (SCO) recognized Representative Huffman as a ‘School Choice Champion’ and presented him with a seedling tree to represent the seeds of hope he is planting for thousands of families across Ohio. Representative Huffman is the first legislator to receive this prestigious award from SCO.”

The web-site states, “In addition, the event paid tribute to Dr. Milton Friedman, widely considered the ‘father of school choice.’ Two students spoke about their experiences using state scholarships to attend private school. One of the students, Derek Allen, is a recent Lima Central Catholic graduate.”

In a you-tube at the SCO web-site, Derek expresses thankfulness that, because of his EdChoice Scholarship, he was able to attend a first rate, academic school. Giving students, like Derek, the opportunity to flee a failing school and attend a successful private school sounds wonderful. The problem is, Derek, like most voucher recipients, used his tax financed scholarship to attend a religious school. Since over 90% of private schools in Ohio, right now, are religious schools, most all vouchers are used to fund religious education. The list of Ohio private schools accepting EdChoice vouchers shows that almost all of these private schools are church sponsored, religious schools.

I can’t understand why Republicans, who profess to be “conservatives,” would advocate using tax money to fund religious private education. HB136, as written, would fund religious private school education for students seeking to escape failing public school districts, and, it would fund religious private education for students who already are attending high performing public school districts, like Centerville.

The private school Derek attended with tax money says on its web-site that it is centered on accomplishing this purpose: “Our Mission:  Lima Central Catholic High School is committed to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, providing a faith-based education through quality academic artistic and athletic programs combined with opportunities for spiritual formation and growth.”

According to his bio, Matt Huffman is a Catholic, a member of the Knights of Columbus, so, evidently, using tax money to provide students with a “faith based education,” one, “committed to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church,” is something Huffman personally supports. But, I’ve got to wonder how he would feel about using public tax money to pay for tuition to a private Muslim school, one whose mission statement matched the fervor of Lima Central Catholic?  Or how would Mr. Huffman feel about using tax dollars to fund a private school whose mission was to advance a doctrine of atheism or Marxism? Remember, unlike public schools, private religious schools are free to severely limit the academic freedom of their teachers, free to demand that their teachers sign doctrinal agreements, free to dismiss teachers and students who fail to enthusiastically adhere to the doctrinal standards of the school.

The point worth debating is this: Is it good public policy to use tax money to pay for religious education? Is it a policy that respects the Constitution? Is is a policy that, by any stretch, could be considered “conservative”?

HB136 will accommodate students who are already attending private schools. The School Choice Ohio Blog reports:

Among the key changes in the amended bill is a provision restoring the eligibility of current private school students whose families meet the income eligibility guidelines. A previously introduced substitute bill would have made these students ineligible. This change brings more balance to parents across Ohio who are struggling to make ends meet while providing educational opportunities for their children.

The eligibility for private school students would again be phased-in over a four year period, beginning with kindergarten students in the 2012-2013 school year, students in grades K-4 in 2013-2014, students in grades K-8 in the 2014-2015 school year, and all students in grades K-12 in the 2015-2016 school year.

According to the web-site, “Follow the Money,” Matt Huffman, the sponsor of HB136, has received $27,500 in contributions from educational entrepreneurs David Brennen and his wife — the owners of “White Hat” Co.  Mr. Brennen is on record as advocating an increase in state vouchers. And Huffman has received $11,000 from William Lager,  of Altair Learning Management, operator of the on-line charter school, The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. Both Mr. Brennen and Mr. Lager have benefited handsomely from the tax money flowing to their charter schools. How nice of them to share.

 

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3 comments to Ohio’s Proposed Voucher Law HB136 — Should Tax Money Be Used To Fund Religious Education?

  • Eric

    Matt Huffman, the sponser of HB136, has received $27,500 in contributions from educational entrepreneurs

    The voucher program competes against charter operators (“educational entrepreneurs”).

    Apparently, Representative Huffman is protecting schoolchildren from public school educators who can’t draft a constitutionally adequate social studies course of study.

  • Maddi Breslin

    NO, NO, NO, a thousand times NO. Separation of Church and State means no money for those who cross and abuse the barrier.

  • Cena

    And we wonder why our public schools can’t make ends meet? I don’t want my tax dollars going into some private CEO’s pocket or into a school that preaches doctrine I don’t approve like creationism or the sin of using birth control. These conservative churches can’t have it both ways.

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