Senate Bill 316, now being discussed in the Senate Education Committee, outlines a big change in the evaluation system of Ohio’s schools. If approved, by downgrading district evaluations, SB-316 will make many more communities eligible for charter schools and more students eligible to receive “Ed Choice” vouchers to attend private schools.
Currently, a student may receive a “voucher” to attend a private school if he or she is living in a district rated either “Academic Watch” or “Academic Emergency.” And, in these low scoring districts, charter schools may be started. Right now, 134 districts are eligible for charters and vouchers, but SB-316 proposes to change the evaluation scale so that this number will more than double.
The new system uses letter grades, from “A” to “F.” Based on current data, if the new system were in place today, 281 districts would have a grade of “D” or “F,” and each of these districts would be eligible for charter schools and vouchers.
There are big differences between the state regulations for private schools as compared to charter schools. A charter school is a public school, and must abide by rules governing public schools. Private schools are, well, private. They operate outside of public rules. They are free to create a school environment that advances their mission and they are free to select or reject students based on their own criteria.
Private schools may have very different rules for teacher qualifications, as compared to public schools, and may make demands of teachers and students that would be against the law in a public school. Over 93% of Ohio’s private schools eligible for vouchers are religious schools. (See list here.) The mission of many of these schools, as stated in their mission statements, is religious indoctrination.
It surprises me that the issue of using tax dollars to fund private religious education is seldom or never mentioned in articles I’ve read about Ohio’s voucher system. Opposition to vouchers for religious reasons evidently was squelched in 2002 when the Rehnquist Supreme Count ruled 5-4 to approve the Cleveland voucher program. I agree with how Justice John Paul Stevens described the 5-4 ruling: “profoundly misguided.” Stevens wrote for the dissenting minority: “Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundation of our democracy.”
The focus of opposition to Ohio’s voucher program seems to be solely its impact on the funding of local schools. For each student receiving a voucher, $5,200 is subtracted from his or her home school district. Right now, 12,988 students from 37 different schools districts receive “Ed Choice” vouchers. The cost of Ed Choice voucher to local school districts is now $38 million. The number of vouchers under current law is capped at 60,000, so, with the new evaluation system, the amount spent on vouchers can grow to almost five times its current size, to $312 million.
In the new grading scale, most of Ohio’s highest scoring school districts will be downgraded. If SB-316 is implemented, many communities, who have been told their schools are “excellent,” will soon be told that their schools only rate a grade of “B.” Right now, 382 of Ohio districts and community schools are rated “Excellent,” or “Excellent with Distinction.” Under the new system only 22 of these districts would have a grade of “A.”