*Sarah Pechan is Senior Director of Programs for School Choice Ohio*

Ohio is the newest state with an income-based scholarship, joining Indiana, Washington DC, and Wisconsin.

On Sunday, June 30, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed the nation’s newest school choice program into law: a state-sponsored private school scholarship for students starting kindergarten this fall whose family income falls at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

This is the state’s fifth school voucher program joining the EdChoice (eligibility based on school performance), Cleveland Scholarship, (for students who would otherwise attend Cleveland Metropolitan School District), and the Jon Peterson and Autism scholarship programs (both for students with special needs).

Parent demand

For many years, parents have been clamoring for an income-based scholarship. Just because they couldn’t afford a better education, they said, didn’t mean that their kids should be stuck in an environment that wasn’t high quality or wasn’t a good fit for them. They recognized the importance of education and knew that they needed to have more, not fewer, doors open to them.

So parents met with their elected representatives and senators in Columbus on advocacy days, spoke at and attended rallies in torrential downpours, sent personal letters and postcards, came to the Statehouse to testify before legislative committees, and made hundreds of phone calls. Parents shared their powerful personal stories:

-Barb: “I wish I had a choice in the education of my children. My children’s school is not the environment that I would choose for them or an environment that I feel is helping them reach their highest potential.”

-Wallisha: “Our children are our biggest investment and setting them up to succeed with a better quality of education today means that the workforce and business leaders of tomorrow will be better prepared to lead our communities, cities, state and country.” 

How it happened

And it worked!

Ohio’s leaders stepped up to create a new income-based scholarship for families who know their children need another option but cannot afford to make the change.  

With the governor’s signature on the bill, years of proposals, disappointments, and persistent work all paid off. The proposal, like those in past years, received bipartisan support, including from legislators who were previously opposed to school choice. This is also a small but important step away from the contention over the “failing schools” model of scholarships and toward a model of choice that focuses on what children and families want and need everywhere in Ohio.

How the program works

Ohio’s new income-based scholarship will provide $4,250 in private school tuition for up to 2,000 kindergarteners starting in fall 2013. Students can be located in any Ohio school, district, town, city, or county – the only criteria is their family income (at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines, just over Free and Reduced Price Lunch eligibility). The new criteria mean that tens of thousands of incoming kindergarten students across the state are now eligible for the scholarship.

Getting the word out

This is the first-ever voucher program in Ohio to go into effect immediately. The application window opens officially today. Bu, the deadline is fast approaching too – July 31, 2013. The Ohio Department of Education has not had time to create and publish the application yet, so we have created a website where families can sign up to be notified as soon as the application becomes available – hopefully well before the July 31 deadline! The website where parents can sign up for application news is www.scohio.org/scholarship.

Looking ahead

The law says the scholarship will grow one grade level per year for the next 12 years until it is available to all students across the state whose family income meets the guidelines. In 2025, we will have a full income-based scholarship program!

For now, this is a truly huge step forward for 2,000 kindergarten students. Thank you to Governor Kasich and all the legislators, coalition partners, parents, advocates, teachers, and school leaders who all worked together to open this door to low- and middle-income families across the state. Parents across Ohio are already lining up to use the scholarship, which they know will be a life-changing opportunity for their children.

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