The EDChoice Expansion Voucher Program:  How it affects Ohioans
By: Sheila Skimmerhorn

     “Despite harm to public schools, a lot of Ohioans are applying for private school vouchers.”  So reads a headline in the The Plain Dealer, September 7, 2023. The mind-boggling numbers of applications for vouchers under the Parent Educational Freedom Act, or Senate Bill SB368, have topped 70,000 (of which 40.000 are still pending).  This is an increase from the total of 29,452 received in 2022.


     The increase is the result of SB368’s raised guidelines for eligibility, from families who made up to 250% of the poverty line, to those who made up to 450% --or $135,000 for a family of four.  Full vouchers are worth up to $8,407 for high school students; K-8 students qualify for up to $6165. 


     Advocates contend that this expansion provides choice for alternatives to public school to more families and allows them to choose private schools which often align with their religious views.  In fact, according to an EdChoice survey of parents who use vouchers, the number one reason they do so is for access to religious environment/instruction. Opponents of the vouchers question whether they violate the separation of church and state.  Currently, 11 states, including Ohio, allow vouchers to be used at religious schools, while Maine and Vermont do not.


     Opponents to vouchers also note that examination of the history of vouchers reveals that the movement began after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, to enable white families to avoid integration. A 2017 Century Foundation  study concluded that “voucher programs are more likely to increase school segregation than to promote integration or maintain the status quo.”

This is what is an overview of what is happening in Arizona

     Another argument used by opponents is that school vouchers funnel money from already-struggling public schools.  The superintendent of an Ohio school district has referred to the vouchers as “an assault on public education.” In an analysis by the USA Today Network Ohio Bureau, the costs for the voucher payouts will total approximately $432 million, which is $34 million more than had been predicted.  Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMaurio has noted that voucher programs have busted state budgets in other states, like Arizona.


     A lawsuit filed by the Vouchers Hurt Ohio coalition on behalf of students and over 100 school districts calls the voucher system unconstitutional. The suit argues that by providing funds to private school systems, the program violates the Ohio Constitution’s requirement for a common school that benefits all students. Public schools cannot turn away students, while private schools can. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has tried to have the case dismissed, but failed. It is still pending.

     Further, and importantly, private school vouchers appear not to do what they are supposed to do: promote positive educational results.  Many studies show that students who use vouchers do not perform any better than their public school peers–and some even perform worse.


     A 2020 study found “strong and consistent evidence” that school voucher students attending private schools performed significantly worse in math.  Another study showed that attendance at a voucher-eligible school increased the likelihood of a child failing math by 50%, as well as “negative and large” effects on reading, science and social studies. 


     Similar studies in Wisconsin confirmed that students using vouchers fared “no better academically than their public school peers," and a study in Indianapolis went so far as to state that vouchers showed “no benefit” in reading skills, while causing “moderate and significant average annual losses.”

     Finally, private schools do not have to accept children with special needs; thus, the use of school vouchers often fails to accommodate and support disabled and special-needs students. Private schools are not required to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires things such as wheelchair ramps, note-takers, and sign-language interpreters.


     To conclude, the new EDChoice voucher program in Ohio gives rise to questions and concerns; among them, determining whether the money spent on vouchers harms the public schools, whether vouchers provided to religious schools are constitutional, and how accountability can be ensured for the taxpayers’ money.


     As Eric Brown, a Columbus school board member and former Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, has said about EDChoice, “In many ways, this is part of an attack on public education, on the concept of public education.  And that’s unfortunate on many fronts.”