Ohio's voucher program reaches its cap ? how much ?evidence? will justify expansion?

For the first time since its inception five years ago, Ohio's EdChoice Scholarship program (the state's targeted school voucher program) has reached its legal max.? The program was created via House Bill 66 in 2005, and provides up to 14,000 vouchers (worth $4,250 for elementary students and $5,000 for high school students) for students in public schools in their resident district rated ?Academic Emergency? or ?Academic Watch? for two of the last three consecutive years.

What would you personally tell families who got locked out of the voucher lottery?

The number of applications grew to 14,696 for the upcoming school year. The Columbus Dispatch points out that fewer schools in central Ohio perform poorly enough for their students to be eligible, compared to 2005. The fact that applications exceed the current cap ? despite the number of eligible schools shrinking in some places?is a testament of the demand for the program.

So is the fact that attrition among voucher-users is quite low, according to another Dispatch analysis last month. Only 875 (seven percent) of 11,600 voucher students stopped using them last year, presumably returning to their neighborhood public school (although some of this seven percent might have moved out of state, or opted for school choice via district open-enrollment or enrollment in a charter school).

Demand for the program is evident and Ohio lawmakers should consider revisiting the 14,000 cap. Chad Aldis, Executive Director of School Choice Ohio sums it up well:

Wealthier families exercise choice by moving to a high-performing, usually suburban school district or by paying tuition at a private school. EdChoice gives the same flexibility to urban and other low-income parents who don't have equivalent resources.

Still, despite the clear demand for EdChoice vouchers and conceivable arguments for expanding this vehicle of school choice, opponents such as Sue Taylor, head of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, raise questions about the program's effectiveness. In the same article that points out the high level of satisfaction among voucher families and the program's low attrition rates, Taylor is quoted saying:

I haven't seen any data yet that the private-school experience serves students any better.

This leads me to wonder ? to what extent should family/parental satisfaction rates for their children's education constitute viable evidence that voucher programs are ?working?? As the experience of DC's voucher program shows, even solid research proving vouchers' academic effectiveness wasn't enough to keep that program alive, so what kind of evidence is necessary to convince detractors that poor children relegated to failing schools deserve a way out? (Fordham explored the role of accountability in school voucher programs in a report last spring that pulled together the opinions of 20 school choice experts. It argues there's a ?middle ground,? where accountability in voucher programs won't infringe on freedoms that private schools wish to protect.)

I'm all for demanding rigorous evidence that programs (funded out of taxpayers' pockets) make a difference in the way of student achievement. But is the moral imperative of providing poor students with options (combined with evident demand) enough to justify voucher expansion? If your answer is ?no?, have you ever seen a?waiting line outside of a school? What would you personally tell families who got locked out of the voucher lottery?

-Jamie Davies O'Leary

More By Author