About 50 people attended an information session on May 19 at Holy Name High School in Parma Heights to hear State Sen. Matthew Huffman, a Republican from Lima, explain Senate Bill 85, which would create the Ohio Opportunity Scholarship program.
Huffman encouraged people to discuss and support the bill, which could take effect with the 2018-2019 school year, if approved by June 30. If that does not happen, he said work will continue on the legislation. A similar proposal, House Bill 200, is pending in the Ohio House of Representatives.
“Things happen because people do things,” Huffman said.
If approved, the legislation would provide low- and middle-income families the opportunity to choose a school other than the public school – private, including Catholic, or charter – for their children. It would consolidate the three current state scholarship programs, making it easier for parents to navigate and for the state to administer.
“A parent knows what’s best for their child,” Huffman said. “It’s all about doing what’s best for the child, about making good choices.”
He explained the genesis of school choice legislation, which began in Cleveland with open enrollment, vouchers and the income-based scholarship program. Currently, a family of four at 200 percent of the poverty level, with an annual income of $49,200, is eligible for several types of educational scholarships from the state. These include a Cleveland Scholarship for those in the Cleveland Municipal School District and select surrounding schools; EdChoice (for failing schools) and EdChoice (income-based). They would be consolidated as the Ohio Opportunity Scholarship program under the proposal, and income requirements would be doubled. That means a family of four at 400 percent of the poverty level, with an annual income of $98,400, would qualify for the program. The Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship and Autism Scholarship programs would not be affected if SB 85 is approved.
The proposed legislation also would increase the amount of scholarships to $7,500 for high school and up to $5,000 for elementary school.
“Parents should be in charge of their children’s education. This isn’t about religion – it’s about choice and the best affordable option,” said Huffman, himself a graduate of Catholic schools. He said his children also attend Catholic schools and his wife is employed at a Catholic school.
“An open market, where there is freedom to choose, raises the quality of services and lowers costs so you get a better service at a lower price,” Huffman said. Strengthening inner-city neighborhoods and some inner-city schools, including Catholic schools, can be a side effect of allowing parents to choose a school for their children, he added, pointing to a success story at one inner-city Catholic school in Lima.
However, Huffman cautioned that the Opportunity Scholarship program would not apply to students currently enrolled in private schools or those moving from a private (including Catholic) elementary school to a private (including Catholic) high school.
“We have to grow the program. It’s an economic reality for the budget,” he added.
Huffman also debunked the notion that if 100 percent of students took advantage of the program, it would decimate public schools.
“That won’t happen,” he said, noting that private schools (including Catholic schools) have a capacity. “And it’s a fact that most people are happy with their public schools.” He said placing a cap on the number of scholarships is another option to keep things in check.
Huffman said in Cleveland, the needle hasn’t moved much despite the introduction of open enrollment and some school choice options. About 36,000 students are enrolled in the Cleveland Municipal School District, he said.
But the bill is a work in progress and amendments could be adopted. He said legislators want to make the proposal user-friendly.
Abigail McKenna, a Holy Name High School senior from Cleveland, shared her story about how a Cleveland Scholarship allowed her to attend the high school of her choice.
“I attended Cleveland schools from kindergarten through eighth grade and had a good experience,” she said. Her public high school choices were John Marshall in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood, or John Hay on the East Side, which would have required a lengthy commute on buses.
She shadowed at Holy Name and decided it was a good fit for her. She won a scholarship from Holy Name and said her parents sacrificed so she could attend the school. In her junior year, she received a Cleveland Scholarship. The timing was good, she said, since her father had some serious medical issues that prevented him from working for an extended period.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to come back for my senior year,” she said, noting the importance of her Cleveland Scholarship. “I am grateful for the additional help.”
Christopher Knight, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Cleveland, said it is important for people to be engaged in the process. “Every voice matters. Contact your legislators, call, and be involved in the legislative process. Write a letter to the editor. Talk to other parents, your school principal or other civic groups you belong to. Invite your legislators to your schools. Make sure your voice is heard. Spread the word to support school choice in
Ohio,” he said.
To find your state senator, visit ohiosenate.gov.
To find your state representative, visit ohiohouse.gov.
Additional information about SB 85 is available by sending an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org.