School Choice Ohio Blog
Doesn't have data about the "would have gone anyway myth" but explains why he thinks it's ok.
would have gone anyway
Terry Ryan: With choice comes accountability
By Terry Ryan
Published: October 17, 2011 - 07:04 PM
DAYTON: There is talk around the Statehouse of a coming war in Ohio around school choice. The potential trigger is House Bill 136. It would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Saving Scholarship (PACT) Program.
PACT would award private school scholarships (or vouchers) worth up to $4,563 a piece to children from families with annual household incomes of up to about $62,000 for a family of four. Based on 2010 U.S. Census numbers, slightly more than half of all households in the state could be eligible for the full voucher amount and another 25 percent could be eligible for smaller vouchers awarded on a sliding family income scale up to $95,000.
Ohio already has three statewide publicly funded voucher programs, so this would be the fourth, and in time it would likely dwarf the other three in numbers of recipients and budgetary impact.
PACT is controversial because its scale means it could affect every district in the state. It would transfer public dollars from districts to private schools (many religious), and it is being proposed in times of diminishing resources and shrinking enrollments in many places. Districts are hurting and this feels like piling on to some. These tensions are not new. The Buckeye State has been at the epicenter of school choice since the late 1990s.
More than 75,000 students are now enrolled in some 350 charter schools. The EdChoice Scholarship Program provides vouchers to students in failing schools, and it is set to expand from 14,000 to 30,000 students next year. The Autism Scholarship Program now serves more than 1,300 youngsters. Over 7,200 students participate in the Cleveland scholarship program, Ohio’s oldest. In June, Ohio added a special needs voucher program that will provide public support of up to $20,000 to eligible students to attend private schools.
Ohio’s school districts also have a number of choice programs: magnet schools and alternative programs, STEM high schools and early college academies. And some 429 districts allow students from anywhere in the state to attend their schools via open enrollment. (Another 90 allow students from adjacent districts to enroll.) And, thousands of families have moved to different houses or apartments in pursuit of better educational options for their daughters and sons.
Besides these bricks-and-mortar options, Ohio has 27 virtual schools serving 33,000 students. The digital learning sector is set to expand rapidly in coming years, and this growth will likely lead to new forms of hybrids that blend classroom-based and on-line learning, as 24/7 outside-of-school learning opportunities for students. Nationally, more than half of all children now attend some kind of “school of choice” and Ohio’s number is surely higher.
The genie of school choice is out of the bottle and we are likely to see more of it. The question for state policy-makers is how to ensure that this widening of options is matched by improved school quality and ultimate gains in student achievement. It little avails a child to choose a school that’s no more effective than the one he or she is exiting. At the end of the day, improved achievement has to be the state’s foremost education policy goal.
Regrettably Ohio’s current school-choice options have had mixed results. Some argue this is reason enough to stop adding choices, but parents and students want more options. The challenge is to ensure that the quality of the choices keeps pace with their quantity and availability.
As new choice programs emerge, they must be incorporated into a rigorous accountability system, preferably one that allows their results to be directly compared with the schools that kids are leaving. Indiana’s expanded voucher program, for example, incorporates a common rating system with five performance tiers for every school that receives state dollars (including private schools enrolling voucher students). All private schools receiving vouchers are graded annually and those that fail to perform adequately for two consecutive years may not enroll new students using state dollars until their performance improves.
Accountability is the partner of choice. The latter creates space for innovation and new options while the former drives change and pushes for continuous improvement. Accountability exposes poor performers and charlatans, while also highlighting successful schools.
The challenge facing policymakers is that, while many voices clamor for widened choice and the opportunities that go with it, far fewer demand accountability for performance. Getting the balance right will determine whether or not school choice in Ohio ultimately succeeds or fails to improve student outcomes. It should also serve as the basis for political détente around school choice.
Ryan is the vice president for Ohio Programs and Policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Dayton.
(Emphasis added in the editorial below. It's worth looking at the 69 comments on this editorial.)
Ohio voucher school expansion bill is a mistake: editorial
Published: Monday, December 05, 2011, 7:10 PM
By The Plain Dealer Editorial Board
More taxpayer money would flow to private schools under a voucher bill now being considered in the Ohio House of Representatives.
Rep. Matt Huffman, a Republican from Lima and school-choice advocate, may not intend to gouge holes in the budgets of public schools that are already on the ropes, but that's exactly what his voucher bill will do if the Ohio General Assembly passes it.
And that's the primary reason why House Bill 136, which has passed out of the House Education Committee, is bad for Ohio's public schools and bad for Ohio.
Maybe Huffman has an inkling of the troubled waters ahead because late last week he said he would "change the bill significantly" because of concerns that it would damage local public schools.
He ought to go further and just shelve it. Currently, vouchers are given primarily to low-income youngsters who would otherwise be locked in the state's worst schools. Liberating such youngsters from that system is critical.
The same can't be said for Huffman's generous voucher system, which would be open to families that earn up to $95,000 a year, even if their youngsters attend highly rated schools.
According to officials from the excellent-rated, property-tax-rich Fairview Park school district in Cuyahoga County, House Bill 136 could snatch as much as $5,700 out their budget for every private-school-bound child -- even though the district receives just $837 in state aid per student. The rest of the district's money comes from pinched taxpayers, who shouldn't be forced to subsidize private schools with their voted public-school tax dollars.
'Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not how to reform school finance in Ohio, nor is it the proper way to help parents struggling to pay for private schooling. They should not be bailed out at the expense of public schools that serve all residents -- or by means of the voted property-tax dollars that were intended solely for those schools.
Accountability is another issue that Huffman takes too lightly. He says he's not worried about unscrupulous private school operators suddenly awash in Ohioans' tax dollars. Everyone would be closely watched, he promises. But that hasn't happened with charter schools, where some operators have racked up millions of dollars in questionable expenses.
Now imagine trying to review the books of religious and independent private schools, which are naturally opaque institutions.
As the independent Center on Education Policy report on vouchers said last July, vouchers are not a "comprehensive solution" to states' educational problems.
Public schools are likely to continue to educate most children, as the CEP report also noted. Huffman and his supporters should not make it harder for successful schools to do the job.
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