One big winner appears to be the EdChoice Scholarship program that provides state dollars to students who wish to attend private schools. The program is capped, but the current budget language would require the number of scholarships to be increased by five percent every time the applications come within 90 percent of the maximum permitted.
Current law provides funding for up to 60,000 students. In Fiscal Year 2019, scholarships were awarded to 23,000 students.
In addition to putting an automatic increase in place, HB 166 expands the program to include students who were previously ineligible.
Income-based EdChoice scholarships will now be available for all K-12 students, beginning with the 2020-21 school year. Previous law implemented the scholarships in 2013-14 and only students entering kindergarten were eligible. One grade was added each year, so that in the most current school year, students in grades K-5 could apply.
The Senate added an additional $50 million to the scholarship program and extended the application period.
The current budget contains language that will protect more DOPR schools from closure. A new scoring method will be applied going forward as well as retroactively to the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. If the scores from the previous school years rise based upon the new method, and the schools are rated “meets standards” or “exceeds standards,” they will not close. Only schools that fail to meet standards three years in a row will be shut down.
The House version of the budget included the creation of a study committee for DOPR schools. The State Board of Education (SBE) already had one in place after they unanimously passed Resolution 19 from Member Lisa Woods at their April meeting. The workgroup meets every Monday, except for Mondays when a State Board meeting is scheduled.
“It’s been really great. (SBE Members) John Hagan and Lisa Woods are obviously concerned about this population of kids. Dr. Jenny Kilgore (SBE) recently came and observed,” shared Cris Gulacy-Worrel, vice president of Development and Advocacy for Oakmont Education and a participant in the workgroup.
“The missing piece has been the perception versus what the actual outcomes are for these students and their communities. Democrats and Republicans are both showing interest in these kids, and there’s a willingness from both sides of the aisle to visit these kids and see the work that is being done. It’s a significant change and their responses are incredibly positive towards the work that is being accomplished in these schools,” Gulacy-Worrell said.
When asked by The Ohio Star whether the House language creating a “study committee” for DOPR Schools would negatively or positively impact the current workgroup, SBE Member John Hagan said, “We have been diligently working on how to properly evaluate the success of DOPR schools. If the language (creating a study committee) is passed, we’ll pass a resolution to adopt the legislative requirements and keep working, so that we do not have to start from scratch.”
“I think it’s a good idea to have the legislature and the governor’s office at the table,” Hagan added. Another positive component of the House language is the prohibition against closing DOPR schools until the report is issued by the workgroup this December.
Some additional changes that are positive for charter schools include a slight increase in facilities funding, per-pupil funding bonuses for “Community Schools of Quality,” and changes to the charter school closure law.
“After years of piling on regulations and making it more difficult for charters to survive and operate, this budget is encouraging,” said Ron Adler, president of the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education. “My hope for our students is that these changes stay in the final bill and give charter kids and teachers some stability for years to come.”
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