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Controversial EdChoice school-voucher program remains unchanged

Ohio House rejects Senate plan that would have addressed worries that the program will siphon money from public schools.

CLEVELAND — State lawmakers failed today to agree on how to keep the state’s largest school-voucher program from potentially diverting millions of dollars from public school districts.  

The Ohio House unanimously rejected a Senate plan that would have shrunk the voucher program, known as EdChoice. (The Senate plan would have increased the number of families eligible for vouchers based on household income.)

For years, Ohio has allowed parents with children in low-performing schools to send their kids to private or religious schools with taxpayer-funded vouchers.

But changes to how the state grades school performance has opened the door to families in high-performing and affluent districts to use vouchers. It's an option many parents welcome but lawmakers never intended.

As a result, the number of schools from which parents are now eligible to pull their kids -- and send to them to a private schools – is more than double last year's. The number will go from just less than 500 to 1,200 in the next academic year.

State Sen. Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls proposed scaling back the program while changes to the metrics used to grade school performance is refined.    

Public school officials are frustrated by the grading metric, including one known as "value added," which contributes to the spike. They worry expanded eligibility will siphon money from their already tight budgets, force them to cut programs or ask voters to approve higher taxes.

"That flawed metric is going to determine our funding and where families can choose and not choose to send their students is really outlandish proposition," Parma Schools Superintendent Charles Smialek said. "We need to know exact criteria and we need to eliminate criteria that don't make any sense."

Smialek said Parma’s school district lost $2.1 million to EdChoice vouchers last year. He said current program, unless lawmakers adjust it, will likely cost an additional million dollars.

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