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Ohio Dems lay out education bills to increase funding, target private vouchers and student hunger

Ohio House Democrats have laid out a plethora of bills targeting the education system in the state, impacting everything from teacher pay to oversight of private school vouchers and the overall funding of the public school system.

Books, an apple, colored pencils, and ABC blocks on a classroom table.
Books, an apple, colored pencils, and ABC blocks on a classroom table. (Element5 Digital / Unsplash)

In a press conference last week, House Democratic leadership and bill sponsors listed off legislation that has been active for a while in the chamber, and newly introduced measures they hope will see light before the end of the legislative session.

“Our principles are pretty clear on that front,” said House Minority Whip Dani Isaacsohn, D-Cincinnati. “There is no better investment we can make in the future of our state than investing in the education of our students, and that every kid, no matter which corner of the state they grow up in, deserves a world class education.”

Having that education requires systems of learning that are equally overseen and that have the funding needed to support both the students and the teachers in Ohio’s school districts, the Democrats said in explaining the many bills they have brought to the table.

At the top of the list is House Bill 10, which seeks to hold legislators to the six year phase-in plan that was assigned to the Fair School Funding Plan, legislation that funds public schools based less on property values and more on the needs of individual school districts.

HB 10 is a bipartisan bill which simply “expresses the intent of the General Assembly to continue phasing in the school financing system,” which was inserted in the 2021 budget bill, “until that system is fully implemented and funded,” according to the language of the bill.

The bill was introduced in February 2023 and quickly referred to the House Finance Committee, but has not seen activity since.

“There’s no guarantee that the work of the Fair School Funding Plan will continue,” said state Rep. Beryl Brown Piccoloantonio, D-Gahanna. “We must continue our work to ensure that our system of public education is funded adequately and equitably.”

Democrats are pushing for full funding of the public school system while simultaneously aiming for more oversight of private schools, particularly those receiving private school vouchers, for which the eligibility was raised to near-universal levels in the last budget cycle.

Isaacsohn introduced House Bill 575 on May 21, which would require oversight “around financial accountability, fair testing transparency and other standards for private schools where 25% or more of their students receive vouchers,” according to the Dems.

House Bill 567 is also taking aim at the state of Ohio’s private school voucher system, attempting to cap the income eligibility limit for the private school vouchers, which its sponsor, state Rep. Phil Robinson, Jr., D-Solon, said would keep the focus on poor families and those who need the help to afford options in education.

“Taxpayers deserve to know how is the money being spent, and parents deserve to be able to make a real choice by knowing what is the plan for that school’s future, how many students are performing well and at what level,” Isaacsohn said.

The bills have the support of the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, two major education unions in the state.

“In order for students to be successful, we have to not only support students, but we have to support the system that they’re in, and the staff who’s working with them,” said Melissa Cropper, president of the OFT.

The unions emphasized the need not only for the public school funding and private school oversight, but also for bills like House Bill 408, which would create a universal public school meals program, and House Bill 387, which would eliminate academic distress commissions, a method of state takeover for low-performing schools.

“It is time, once and for all, to end the academic distress commissions and return to local control,” said Scott DiMauro, OEA president.

The bills, particularly any bills related to limiting private school vouchers, may have a hard time of it in a legislature with a strong Republican supermajority, and leadership who supports private school vouchers and the idea of “school choice,” a conservative term used for the effort to push more students into private schools in areas where public schools are considered underperforming.

This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal


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