This would be the largest single Voucher program in the state, outstripping Cleveland, EdChoice and the Jon Peterson Vouchers by a wide margin. It would provide 22,000 vouchers for poor children in Ohio to go to preschool to the tune of $100 million. The state's largest voucher program currently, EdChoice, only has about 14,000 participants.
As you know, Dear Reader, I am a strong advocate for the importance of preschool for every kid, regardless of income. But it can be especially important for those in greatest need.
However, something about this didn't seem right to me. Well, then it was confirmed for me in the Dayton Daily News story about the idea:
Saying it would promote economic opportunities that lead to stable, traditional families, a group of Ohio pastors and Christian educators on Thursday urged state lawmakers to put more money in pre-kindergarten education.
The group, organized by Shepherding the Next Generation, a Washington, D.C., based organization of evangelical pastors and ministry leaders, put their support behind an effort to get $100 million set aside in the state budget to fund vouchers for public and private preschool education for 3-year-olds from low-income families.
They cited research that showed children who first attended pre-kindergarten were more likely to succeed in school and get jobs later in life, and less likely to have out-of-wedlock children.
The program would save taxpayers long-term by making it less likely the kids would eventually end up on public assistance or get involved with the criminal justice system, said Gary Gepfrey, director of Bridge Ministries Marriage Enrichment Center in Dayton.
“We don’t have any disposable children in this nation, in this state,” said Finn Laursen, executive director of the Westlake, Ohio-based Christian Educators Association International. “And need to invest in them up front so we’re not doing catch-up, and so we’re not ushering them in as school dropouts who have bigger challenges outside in our culture.”
The most vocal group supporting this idea is the one that is set to profit the most from it. There aren't tons of public preschools popping up in Ohio these days. The overwhelming number of preschools in Ohio are private, in fact.
According to the Ohio Department of Education, there were 1,364 licensed preschool programs in Ohio last year serving 64,849 preschool aged children. The new Voucher program would provide 22,000 vouchers at a cost of $4,500 each. I don't see 22,000 slots opening up anytime soon -- an effective 33% increase in the availability of preschools. Like other Ohio voucher programs, this will mostly fund kids who are already in the private preschool, not open up more opportunities for children to enter these schools.
I agree with Finn Laursen and others quoted throughout these new Voucher stories about the importance of preschool. It's just odd that when I was in the legislature, I don't remember them coming before my finance subcommittee being equally as passionate. Only now, when they have a shot at huge sums of public money do they come out of the woodwork.
It wouldn't take much more money to have universal preschool in all our most struggling districts (in fact, it's a cornerstone of the Cleveland Plan, remember). One could fund this simply by removing money from Charter Schools that take kids from districts that perform better on the state's two major performance measures. I mean, Oklahoma, of all places, did universal preschool.
Diverting more public money to private entities is doubling down on an idea that has demonstrated time and again that it won't benefit children, but will benefit the adults running private schools. Let's invest in all our kids, not just provide another windfall for private entities.
If the plan is adopted, it would mean that Ohio would spend more money on Vouchers and Charters in a year than the Department of Defense spends on Science and Technology Research and Development.