Thursday, May 29, 2014

ODE Voucher Enrollment Increases Would Put Vouchers over $200 million Mark Next Year

The Ohio Department of Education announced preliminary Voucher enrollment figures for next school year. The increases would put the cost of the Voucher program well over $200 million. Not bad considering it was $99 million three years ago.

That was sarcasm.

Here is the Gongwer Ohio report on the announcement:

Vouchers: Applications that would use up more than 75% of the new income-based Educational Choice scholarships were submitted during this year's first application round, the Department of Education reported.The department said 3,209 students applied for the expanded voucher program, which will provide 4,000 scholarships to private schools for children in kindergarten and first grade whose families earn 200% of the federal poverty level or less.Last year only about 1,700 applied, which was when the expansion was only available for kindergarten students.Another application window will run July 1-31, according to the Department of Education.Submissions for the traditional EdChoice program that applies to persistently poor performing school buildings hit 18,228 in the first round of applications, up from 16,848 in that period last year. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 22, 2013)Applications totaled 18,723 after the second round last year. There are 60,000 available. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, August 14, 2013)ODE also reported that interest in the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program - which provides vouchers just for Cleveland Municipal School students - totaled 7,677 applicants. The Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship had 3,295 applicants."School Choice Ohio is here to help families learn about all their education options, including the state's scholarship programs," School Choice Ohio Senior Director of Programs Sarah Pechan-Driver said. "We have several school choice counselors on staff who help parents navigate what can be an overwhelming maze of options, and we couldn't be happier to hear that so many families are finding a great school that is a great fit for their child." 
We have easily accessible average per pupil data for this school year on Peterson, EdChoice and the Autism Vouchers. As of the latest funding report, EdChoice and Peterson account for $96.4 million of the Voucher cost. Given these reported increases, at this school year's average per pupil cost, that amount will be $123.8 million -- a $27 million increase.

When accounting for the total Voucher loss, as well as additional, non-deduction payments contained in the 2013-2014 budget, this school year will see about $175 million in public dollars going to private schools. Add the $27 million additional just in two of the state's 4-5 Voucher programs (depending on how you count them), and there will be well over $200 million in public money sent to private schools next year, including a sizeable chunk of State Lottery money, which I don't remember Ohioans voting for in order to fund private schools.

Oh, and if the same approximately 13% increase in Voucher enrollments happens during the next month, like it did last year, according to Gongwer, then add another $10 million to the $27 million increase, just in EdChoice Vouchers.

The state's Voucher programs have turned into another School Choice budget hog (like Charter Schools), with little evidence to suggest that, overall, the program provides children with better opportunities than they would have in the traditional public schools. Vouchers used to mean children in only about 35 districts lost money. Now it's children in 464 districts.

So while the Ohio Department of Education and School Choice Ohio seem to think that removing $200 million of our tax dollars from public schools to send to private schools is good news, I'm thinking that the 90% of parents in this state whose kids remain in the public schools with $200 million fewer resources will think differently.

But that's just a guess.