School boards across the state are expressing their opposition to pending legislation that would expand the availability of vouchers to public school students who want to attend private or parochial schools.
House Bill 136, which would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings (PACT) Scholarship Program, was passed by the House Education Committee last fall. The bill would provide vouchers to public school students from families with federal adjusted gross income of $95,000 or less who are interested in attending private or parochial schools.
Supporters hail the bill as an opportunity for children to get the best education possible. But opponents say it will harm the public school system.
“I have deep concerns about this bill and its impact on the ability of our public educators to meet their responsibilities for the overwhelming number of students in the state,” said State Rep. Matt Szollosi, whose district includes Oregon. “To further inhibit the quality of public education in our state puts us at a real disadvantage as we’re trying to compete on a global scale.”
Szollosi said he has heard from many school officials across the state who are opposed to the bill.
“I have spoken to school superintendents and board officials not just in northwest Ohio but across the state who are deeply concerned about the impact of HB 136 if it were to pass. The opposition has been unprecedented. Over 200 school districts have officially taken a position against HB 136,” he said.
“We don’t think this is a good idea,” Dr. Mike Zalar, superintendent of the Oregon City Schools District, said at a school board meeting last month. The school board passed a resolution against the proposed bill.
Public funds dedicated to a student going to a public school would be redirected to the private or parochial school of the student’s choice.
“It’s going to take away students from our schools and drop our revenue. And it will have a negative downward cycle of impact. I think the board of education needs to let the community and state know that this is not something that we support,” said Zalar.
“Those tax dollars that the state provides would be following those kids to those other programs, essentially putting even more of a bind on public education revenue,” said Zalar. “I do know there are some amendments pending. The legislation is still in a state of flux. But regardless of what it looks like in the end, it still is going to have a negative impact on public education. The bottom line is that we’re going to lose tax dollars, and those tax dollars are going to be siphoned off, and they’re going to be going to private, parochial and charter schools. We believe strongly that this is an issue that we need to rally our staff and our community around to let our legislators know that we’re against this. This is not going to be good for public education.”
The bill would make it more difficult for school boards to plan their budgets, according to Szollosi.
“How can a school district budget not knowing what they’re going to have to work with on an annual basis? As drafted, the house bill results in further hemorrhaging of state resources to fund public education. This is on top of the deep cuts that the majority approved and the governor signed earlier this year. This has the potential to be highly impactful on our public education in the state as we know it,” said Szollosi.
“There are just fundamentally different perspectives on how education should work in Ohio,” Szollosi added. “There’s really a lot to consider here At a time when you’re talking about the economic uncertainty and challenges that families are facing, coupled with the problems school districts have with passing levies, the passage of HB 136 would further exacerbate the problems our school districts are facing. The less resources available, the greater the deterioration in the quality of education.”