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  Is Anybody Listening?  
  Voucher Programs Steal Money From Public Schools Ohio Department of Education’s Report Card ‘Flawed’ :   March 5, 2020 Edition  
      associate editor
      A bill, currently under consideration in the Ohio Legislature, Amended Substitute House Bill 9, could have a severe impact on the state’s public education system, including the Boardman Local Schools.
      The bill seeks to amend current sections of law with regard to student degree completion at state institutions of higher education, to modify eligibility criteria for the Educational Choice Scholarship program, to dissolve certain academic distress commissions, to make an appropriation, and to declare an emergency. Among its original co-sponsors are Rep. Don Manning and Michele Lepore-Hagan.
      Boardman Local School Supt. Tim Saxton, and Lynda Beichner, of Truesdale Rd., were among of 400 people who provided testimony on the measure to a House Conference Committee in Columbus that is studying the proposal, particularly citing the EdChoice program, overseen by the Ohio Department of Education. Under the program, students in ‘designated schools’ can get up to a $6000 stipend (voucher) to leave those schools and attend private schools.
      In the Boardman Local School District, there are two designated schools, Boardman High School and Center Intermediate, both of which received ‘Cs’ on their latest state report cards.
      Whether or not committee-members were listening, by far and away the majority of testimony decried the Ohio Department of Education’s state report cards, lack of accountability for charter schools, and a voucher system that steals money from the public schools, with no input from taxpayers.
      Saxton told the Ohio House & Senate Education Conference Committee that EdChoice will have “a severe impact on our efforts to be fiscally responsible, despite the closing of Market St. Elementary School (that the superintendent said saved the Boardman system $750,000) as well as passage of a tax levy in 2018.”
      He said the EdChoice proposal has identified two buildings in the Boardman Schools as ‘EdChoice,’ creating “a potential loss of $400,000 to $800,000” to the local system
      “If that happens, we will have only two options to overcome that---a levy, that Saxton said “is not an option,” or cutbacks in programming.”
      Noting the Ohio Department of Education’s state report card is flawed, Saxton told the committee “I prefer EdChoice be eliminated,” adding [charter school and private] providers…must be held to the same fiscal, academic accountability and transparency” standards as public schools.
      Beichner said two school buildings in the Boardman system that have been declared as EdChoice both received ‘Cs’ on the state report card.
      “That shouldn’t mean our local taxpayer dollars may be taken from the public school system,” Beichner observed, adding “The current voucher legislation would take hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Boardman Local School System.”
      She said “The system of performance-based vouchers and the state testing upon which it is based is flawed.”
      Ben Travis, finance director at the Cincinnati Hebrew Day School (CHDS) located in Golf Manor, Oh. Told the committee that “Parents in our school are hardworking but bring home modest incomes-more than half of our school families have been assessed as low income. Currently only 10% of our families can pay the full remainder of tuition even after receiving an Edchoice voucher.” He claimed EdChoice vouchers have “proven to be both less expensive for the state and more effective in producing well educated students.”
      Donald Mook Ed.D., Superintendent of the Columbiana Exempted Village School District, and a graduate of Boardman High School, told committee members “My district, based on Ohio Department of Education FY19 School Funding Payment Reports, receives $3,258.71 per pupil from the state of Ohio. Part of the problem, the state does not support its own system of choice when it deducts $6,000 or $4,250 a student for EdChoice, $6,020 per student for open enrollment or Charter Schools, or up to $27,000 per student for the Jon Peterson or Autism Scholarship. We lose local dollars that were voted by and intended for our public school district. There is something unlawful and or fundamentally flawed about this process. Last school year my district lost ($619,267) in local dollars transferred through Ohio choice programs
      Maureen Reedy, a retired public-school teacher and current substitute teacher for Columbus City Schools, and a graduate of Columbus City Schools, Eastmoor High School and the Ohio State University, has been an active advocate for Ohio’s public-schools, its teachers and students since serving as the Ohio Teacher of the Year in 2002. She is also a co-founder and board member for Public Education Partners, a statewide advocacy group for public school districts and the children and families that they serve.
      “Sometimes the perfect moment arrives by chance. On January 29, Ohio students were on stage in the State House celebrating their public schools while the Ohio House voted, 93-0, to reject the Senate EdChoice private school voucher bill. As chance would have it, legislators on lunch breaks witnessed the priceless benefits of public education; confident, joyous students sharing literature, music, art, dance, technology and career education projects in front of proud parents and community members.
      “Nearly 90 % of Ohio’s children attend public schools. Voters have never approved funding private school tuition with public property tax dollars. The Ohio Constitution stipulates state funding for public schools, not private schools,” Reedy declared.
      She asked, “Why should we continue diverting public school funding to private schools that score consistently lower on state tests than their public-school counterparts? A study of Ohio’s EdChoice program found that voucher participants performed worse on state tests compared with their closely matched peers in public schools. It makes no sense to charge public schools with the financial burden of supporting lower performing private school tuition when Ohio’s public-school districts are strapped for cash. Property taxes are ballooning with increased levies necessary to cover rising public-school funds diverted to pay for private school tuition.
      “Continuing to drain vital local funds for private school tuition is unsustainable for Ohio’s public-school districts. Above all, Ohio’s poorest districts need to hang on to every dollar for in-school medical, emotional and social supports for students living day to day with poverty, trauma and addiction in their homes. All eyes are on the Senate to join with the House in restoring reason and sanity to the private school voucher program in Ohio. Vouchers should not victimize Ohio’s public-school children,” Reedy said.
      Liz Kirby, Superintendent of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, said she spent most of her educational career in Chicago.
      “I had to quickly learn the workings of school funding in a state that not only funds its public schools through local tax levies, but also siphons state funds meant for public schools, into private school tuition vouchers. I am still sorting through State Report Card data, trying to figure out how our district can hit an ever-moving target in order to escape the label of ‘poor-performing,’ a label that in no way represents the education that our students are receiving. In fact, the State Report Card appears to be designed to set up a system where eventually all schools could be labeled failing.
      “This year alone, more than $7 million (a third of our state funding) has been deducted from our budget to pay for private school tuition. This is not sustainable,” Kirby said.
      “Consider these….factors,” Kirby asked legislators---Performance-based EdChoice vouchers make it extremely difficult for public school districts to plan and budget. Please transition 100% of vouchers to income-based so EdChoice vouchers are funded from state funds directly. Do not deduct funds from local school districts; [and] reinstate the requirement that a high school student who takes a voucher must first have attended a public school.”
      Kirby concluded, “I will tell you that I am growing increasingly bitter that even ‘some’ of my attention and energy has been diverted away from [our school] mission, and into activism against an unjust system that should have never gotten so out of hand. This must be fixed. Not only is our district at risk, the state of Ohio is at risk.”
      Morgan Steinbach is a second year public school teacher from Plain Local School District, home to over 5,000 students in nine buildings,
      “We have students who come from wealth, and students who come from public housing. We have several students with identified learning, emotional or cognitive disabilities as well as having students identified as gifted in several areas, from Math to the Arts. We have students who have faced trauma that we could never dream of, and some who we might view as having the “picture perfect” life. But, that’s supposed to be what public schools are for, right? To be representative of our public? To expose all children to other children from different groups, different experiences? To highlight different talents, abilities and strengths of all students, regardless of income level? When taxpayer dollars are taken from our local schools, our ability to provide this experience for all students to the best of our ability is hugely limited
      “The environment created in public schools is one of acceptance, progressiveness and inclusivity. Public schools welcome all: There is not an application process. There is no tuition. There is no exclusivity. Private schools offer acceptance to some, tuition help for some, and acceptance only for some. The Ohio Constitution promises citizens a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state.’ The system as it stands today breaks this promise,” Steinbach said.
      He urged legislators “to put trust into the public servants who have chosen [the teaching profession] and to respect Ohio’s promise to the vast majority of students who attend public schools. Respect those who educate all students who are put into their classroom seats. Value the work that over 150,000 educators are putting in daily to educate over a million students in schools across the state. “Show us you care by allowing us to keep the funding we have, not forcing us to be more resourceful than we already are, all so the minority can take funding that the majority needs,” Steinbach said.
      Ryan Pendleton, chief financial officer for Akron Public Schools. Spoke before the committee hearing on ‘the detrimental impacts’ of the EdChoice deduction to public school institutions such as Akron Public Schools.
      “Ohio’s public school teachers are on the front line of doing more with less. The theme of doing more with less seems to be common place amongst our public education vernacular. This theme is quite sad, but true. Ohio’s public school standards are constantly debated and changed, and the results are shared and scrutinized. The same level of scrutiny and debate is not applied to non-public schools.
      “Akron Public Schools serves and educates 21,000 students. Almost 90% of our amazing students and families come to us economically disadvantaged…If the expansion of EdChoice moves forward, the money transfer from Akron Public Schools to non-public institutions will jump by millions,” Pendleton said.
      Mandy Wagner is classroom teacher in the Canton City School District.
      She noted, “According to Nick Ciolli, Budget Analyst for the state of Ohio, in fiscal year 2019, 31 traditional districts were designated for the EdChoice Program. Again, Canton City was one of them. This year, under the current formula, 160 districts would now be impacted, and in 2021, the number of districts would almost triple to 426.
      “District leaders are in a panic, stressing over what the implications might mean for them should expansions be enacted. Well, I can tell you what it would look like. We’ve been feeling the impact of these vouchers for a long time. And it rips my heart out every day. We’ve been designated a ‘failing’ district by a flawed report card system for years, and because of a system I cannot begin to comprehend, we, instead of being given wrap services are instead stripped of resources that we desperately need and, by not having, further exacerbates the problem… Having endured the effects of what vouchers do to a district for many years, it now goes beyond reduced curriculum offerings. We cannot offer our students some of the most basic of services. In a district that struggles with literacy, we have whole buildings without…librarians. We cannot afford the staffing and cannot afford to resource materials.”
      While the debate on school vouchers is ongoing, in Mahoning County there is the Youngstown City School District, largely supported by government grants and programs, that has been under state control for more than five years.
      The Youngstown school board has no voice, a government appointed director has the authority to dole out raises (former state-appointed administrator Kris Mohip gave himself a $172,000 annual salary), and in all the years under state control, the Youngstown City Schools have failed to pass the report card, a report card created by the state of Ohio’s Department of Education.
      Am. Sub. HB 9 could eliminate state takeovers of public school systems. It is clear the state has failed the Youngstown City Schools, notwithstanding its own poor performance prior to the state takeover, when the people had a voice on their own school board.
      Former Boardman Local School Board member F.W. Knecht (who also served as a Trustee on the Board of Trustees at Youngstown State University and Grove City College) often stated his opposition to too much government interference by the Ohio Department of Education in the public schools system.
      “When the state sets standards, they are actually minimum standards, that by design marginalize good public school systems, lowering their standards so they appear more ‘equal’ with under-performing public schools that are more frequently than not, large urban districts,” Knecht said.
      “Nearly 90 % of Ohio’s children attend public schools. Voters have never approved funding private school tuition with public property tax dollars. The Ohio Constitution stipulates state funding for public schools, not private schools.”
      Is the initiative (EdChoice) faithfully working as its founders intended?...The students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools. The study finds negative effects that are greater in math than in English language arts. Such impacts also appear to persist over time.”
      Fordham Institute
      “The environment created in public schools is one of acceptance, progressiveness and inclusivity.
      Public schools welcome all: There is not an application process. There is no tuition. There is no exclusivity. Private schools offer acceptance to some, tuition help for some, and acceptance only for some. The Ohio Constitution promises
      citizens a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state.’ The system as it stands today breaks this promise.”
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