Vouchers, vouchers, vouchers! Why more students could soon be eligible for one in Ohio

The EdChoice Scholarship Program (Ohio’s voucher program) was signed into law in 2005 under Governor Bob Taft. The program awards students vouchers based on the academic standing of their assigned district school. Up until last year students were eligible to apply for a voucher if they attended a school or were slated to attend a school that was rated Academic Watch or Academic Emergency for two of the last three years. Last year, under HB 153 this eligibility definition was expanded to not only include those schools rate Academic Watch or Academic Emergency for two of the last three years, but also schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of all public school buildings according to performance index. Students in grades K-8 are awarded $4,250 and students in grades 9-12 are awarded $5,000, or the tuition amount of the private school if it is less than the specified amount. The State of Ohio can provide up to 60,000 scholarships annually to eligible students to attend a private school of their choice (this number is up from an original 14,000 student cap).

Where are all these eligible schools located? And how many students do they serve? And will they change if the new A-F accountability system is put into place? These questions and more got us thinking at Fordham, here is what we discovered. 

Based on last school year’s academic results, for the coming 2012-2013 school year approximately 85,000 students attending 217 schools from 27 different districts are eligible to apply for an EdChoice voucher.  These eligible districts are spread out across the state, but a majority of eligible schools belong to the Big 8 urban districts. Seventy-six percent of eligible schools are located in Big 8 districts (this excludes Cleveland because that district has its own voucher program) and most of the other schools are located in mid-size cities such as Springfield, East Cleveland, and Lorain. Put another way 23 of 30 Dayton’s district schools are eligible for the EdChoice voucher, a similar story plays out in Youngstown as well.

The EdChoice program could also see a significant change not only in the number of schools and students eligible for a voucher, but also where these schools are located under the newly proposed A-F system. Under the proposed A-F system more schools would be rated D and F, resulting in an increase in the number of eligible schools. Using performance data from 2010-11 the Ohio Department of Education ran a simulation to demonstrate how schools might fare under the new system (you can read more about the proposed A-F system here). Using that data 273 schools and approximately 105,000 students would now be eligible for the EdChoice program. A majority of eligible schools still remain in Big 8 districts but a couple of new districts such as Hamilton City and South Western City would now have eligible schools on the list under the new A-F system.

It is also interesting to note while a significant change to the number of schools and their locations might not take place this year, this could be a very different story down the road once the new accountability system has been in place a few years. If schools such as Daniel Wright Elementary School in Dublin City and several schools in Xenia City continue down their current path of poor academic performance we could see districts that we don’t usually associate with being in need of a voucher program on the list.

The EdChoice Program has come a long way since it was signed into law in 2005 and more changes are surely on the way. The eligibility requirements have changed, the cap on the number of students allowed to participate has increased, and a new accountability system is on the way. Oh and don’t forget the new Common Core academic standards which are sure to have some initial impact on academic performance and voucher eligibility.

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