PREBLE COUNTY — Preble County Superintendents oppose the EdChoice Voucher Program, which will allow taxpayer dollars to leave county schools and fund private education.
According to The Ohio Department of Education, which refers to the program as the “EdChoice Scholarship Program,” EdChoice is intended to provide students from designated public schools the opportunity to attend participating private schools. This program also provides low-income students who are entering kindergarten though 12th grade scholarship opportunities.
Eaton Superintendent Jeff Parker explained, “The EdChoice Voucher Program is a program where students who want to attend private schools are able to get a voucher from the public school for a certain amount of money and they are allowed to use that money to pay tuition at the private schools.”
The designated public schools are those deemed “failing,” or failing to meet certain criteria.
This program has been in place since 2005, however, it has recently created controversy when the number of inadequate public schools was bumped from approximately 400 to approximately 1,200. Many of those schools have School Report Card overall grades of “C,” “B,” or higher.
In Preble County, the following schools are considered “failing”: Tri-County North Elementary, National Trail Middle School, Camden Primary, Preble Shawnee Jr./Sr. High School, and Twin Valley Middle School.
Preble County Educational Service Center Assistant Superintendent Shawn Hoff added, there is another proposed iteration of the School Voucher Program, based on income instead of school performance.
According to Parker, currently, the House and the Senate are disagreeing on how to handle the situation. The House, in amendments, proposed to shift almost entirely to a voucher system based on family income rather than school performance, but the Senate in amendments, proposed to change eligibility criteria to push the inadequate school list back to 425 schools, closer to what it was before.
However, the EdChoice application deadline was postponed from Feb. 1 to April 1, to create more space for negotiations.
According to Parker, the EdChoice Voucher Program does not affect Preble County “tremendously” right now, but they see how it could in the future. That is the worry behind the program. It also seems “unfair” to several of the superintendents who have to enforce State regulations, while private schools don’t have the same restrictions.
“The private schools have used this as a recruiting tool. That’s fine, but the private schools should have to do everything we have to do. They should have to follow the same rules and standards — that comes to testing, due process on discipline. If they want to take state dollars and fund private schools, than those private schools should have to follow the same standards as us,” Parker said.
Tri-County North Superintendent Bill Derringer added, “In the past we were fine with [the EdChoice Voucher Program], but now we’re not fine with it anymore, because the dollars are coming directly out of dollars that should be going to [our schools] for us to be able to educate the other kids that we’re required to by law.”
“I view it as an attack on public school students. A lot of the detractors say we’re trying to circle the wagon and protect different things about public education, but what we do on a day-to-day basis affects our kids. Anytime we take tax dollars away and put them to a private school, that is going to impact what we’re doing on a daily basis with our kids,” Matt Bishop, Preble Shawnee Superintendent, said.
“We’re hoping that Columbus comes to their senses and moves away from this ridiculous proposal.”
Twin Valley Community Local Schools Superintendent Scott Cottingim said, “If we were all measured the same, I don’t think anyone would have concern with the EdChoice Voucher Program the way it is, but the private schools are not held to the same standards as the public schools. It’s really not a fair playing [field].”
“Even if it’s just two students, anytime you take $12,000 out of money that could go towards a school district, that is a series of textbooks, classroom materials, or an instructional aid – there are a lot of things that could be negatively impacted by losing that money,” National Trail Superintendent Bob Fischer said. “It’s not fair that our taxpayers should have to be burdened with someone else’s choice, when they’re paying tax dollars to go towards their home district.”
An additional worry is private schools using the EdChoice Voucher Program as a way to recruit for their schools. Some of the Preble County schools are closer to private schools than others and run a higher risk of having those schools recruit from their district.
In fact, according to Derringer, Tri-County North has already been featured on a flyer for an unnamed school recruiting using the EdChoice Voucher Program. Preble Shawnee has also been featured on mailers from private schools.
“Some might say, ‘Why don’t the public schools go out and recruit?’ Am I really going to recruit students from other Preble County communities? That is not viable — it is not right,” Superintendent Parker said.
Superintendent Fischer added, he doesn’t want it to seem like they are against being “held accountable,” but instead would like to see changes made to testing and how students and school districts are measured. For him, it is a fairness issue for both the schools and the students.
“There is not a single one of us who is opposed to being held accountable. We just need to make sure the way we are held accountable is fair,” he said.
The five Preble County Superintendents have shown their opposition to this program by contacting state representatives and holding various different meetings. They are now waiting to see if their voices are heard and acknowledged in Columbus.
Parker added, “We appreciate parents having choices, but again, it needs to be the same standards if you’re going to use state dollars towards those choices and don’t use our district money towards those choices.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH