I thought I would respond to Tom Dunn’s column dated Jan. 30, 2020 titled “Yet another political scam exposed.” I would like to add a different perspective having been in the General Assembly for over five years. As disclosure, Senator Matt Huffman of Lima is my first cousin and is currently the Majority Leader in the Ohio Senate.
The concept of school choice in Ohio started 25 years ago by Governor Voinovich. It was initially created to reform just the Cleveland City Schools giving school vouchers to students in the city of Cleveland. The thought was that the Cleveland City Schools were in need of help from the State of Ohio. The General Assembly then added on the Ed Choice voucher program for the state for what were identified as failing schools about 15 years ago. I believe the thought behind this was, if a child lived in a failing school district, they deserved a voucher to get out of attending a failing school.
This was expanded in 2014 and called the income-based voucher. I believe the thought behind the expansion was that a family’s income or socioeconomic status should not prohibit them being able to have a choice of schools for their children to attend. This program worked on an incremental basis, first starting with students in kindergarten, and then adding an additional grade each year. This past operating budget, it was increased to make all grades eligible to receive the income-based voucher, which was capped at 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
In general, the school from where a child comes from pays for the performance based voucher and the state pays for the income based voucher. In 2014, the General Assembly passed a law to change the criteria for performance based vouchers. Criteria were added to increase the number of buildings eligible based on failure to make progress, not meeting the third grade reading guarantee, and other criteria. There were about 350 buildings on that list last school year, and it was supposed to be 1250 for the 2020-2021 schoolyear. The law was passed in 2014, but given what is known as a safe harbor or a delay, because there were new report cards and many people in education did not feel it was fair to implement the law without giving ample time to allow the school districts and buildings to adjust and plan.
In 2019, it was time to implement the law passed five years earlier. Where was Tom Dunn the past five years? Where was the State School Board Association? Where were the superintendents? They were nowhere to be found around Columbus trying to fix what they thought was a broken voucher system. Senator Matt Huffman introduced a bill three years ago (Senate Bill 85) to fix this problem, but could not get hearings to discuss his legislation, because it seemed no one had an interest in fixing the problem with him at that time.
To be fair, name calling isn’t something I worry about. Those resorting to name calling and finger pointing, often resemble the very accusations they make. However, I am offended on behalf of the hard working, brave parents and families who drove to Columbus this week to testify before the House and Senate conference committee. They made a compelling case of why the EdChoice program offers their children results. Results count, and parents expect results, and should have options to find those results. Sadly, many of those parents were found themselves on trial, by certain members of the committee, asking them to define failing schools and list criteria going into the school report card.
Here is the definition of failing, a school not meeting the parent’s expectations, and many of them made that clear. The Senate’s plan clarifies and advances the mission of the critical EdChoice program, with a solution public schools also supported that addressed their concerns about the school report.
Revising the way the state measures all schools is a long term conversation for parents, the General Assembly, the Department of Education and the Governor’s office, which I am willing to have in the future. As of now, the Senate’s plan offers a solution that was supported by both EdChoice families and public schools. Attempts to blow-up the process to make a deal for big lobbying groups that want to destroy the ability of parents get better results for their children is the real scam.
Families and private schools had been told for years what the criteria was going to be and moved districts, applied to schools and made many adjustments based on what the law was until just hours until the portal was to be opened to apply for the vouchers. This was very disingenuous to the students, families and schools. On Jan. 30, the Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill give a 60 day extension. A conference committee made of members of the House and Senate, including Republicans and Democrats, are scheduled to meet 10 times over the next two weeks to listen to the people of Ohio and to figure out what is the best course of action concerning school choice in Ohio.
In the Ohio Senate, I represent all of Miami, Preble, southern Darke and western Montgomery counties, including the city of Dayton and Trotwood. Dayton and Trotwood have been voucher districts for a number of years because of their grade on the state school report card. I believe that a child’s future should not be dictated by their zip code. If the state of Ohio listens to Mr. Dunn and does not give these children a choice to go to another school with the Ed Choice voucher program, I believe we would be failing the student, their families, and society.
Steve Huffman is serving his second term as state representative for the 80th Ohio House District, which covers Miami County and parts of Darke County. He also is the former Miami County Coroner.