This past Spring, Ohio House Bill 487 changed the rules surrounding the implementation of Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee, now requiring 3rd grade students using EdChoice Tuition vouchers to be held to the same standard as their public school peers (i.e., subject to retention in Grade 3 if they don’t attain the required score). While EdChoice students have been required to participate in Ohio’s standardized testing program, including passing the Ohio Graduation Test in order to earn a high school diploma, many hailed this as a step toward removing the inequities that exist in Ohio law.
Supporters of this change claimed that since these students are funded by Ohio’s tax dollars, they should be subject to the law in the same way that public school students were. While 3rd grade students will now be held accountable, Ohio’s private schools will still avoid having to test all of their students and reporting the schools’ overall performance to the public. With EdChoice vouchers expected to cost taxpayers over $100 million per year in the near future, Ohioans are right to begin questioning why Ohio’s private schools are not “graded” the same way Ohio’s public schools are judged.
To be honest, it’s well past time for the Ohio legislature to tighten up the laws to hold private schools to the same standard as Ohio’s public schools. While many think that vouchers are the only taxpayer dollars that are directed to private schools, nothing could be further from the truth.
Ohio Revised Code 3317.06 is titled “Providing materials to nonpublic schools.” and details the flow of money from Ohio’s public schools to private school coffers. This includes costs of textbooks and other instructional materials, including computer hardware. Other services that are paid for by Ohio’s taxpayers include counseling and social services, remediation and gifted intervention, and even some specified clerical needs.
In FY2013, private schools were reimbursed over $124 million for these auxiliary services.
Separate from that, private schools were also reimbursed for “costs related to mandated administrative and clerical requirements” to the tune of over $57 million.
If re-directing over $181 million annually wasn’t enough, Governor Kasich’s 2013 budget proposed increasing the amounts for both of these funds by 5.5 percent in FY 2014 and by 3.0 percent in FY 2015.
Finally, Ohio Law requires public school districts to provide transportation to students residing in their district who attend a private school (ORC 3327.01). According to FY13 transportation funding reports submitted by school districts to the Ohio Department of Education, Ohio’s public schools spent over $42 million providing transportation to students attending private schools, a figure that has remained steady for the past few years.
So while politicians may claim that the EdChoice vouchers are the only tax dollars going to private schools, the reality is that in FY13, taxpayers footed the bill for another $223 million; money that directly benefited private schools by reducing their operating costs. Add in the cost of EdChoice vouchers and the total amount public taxpayer money going to private schools is over $300 million per year!
While Ohio’s Tea Party politicians have been so outspoken about transparency in the use of public tax dollars as far as public schools are concerned by expanding the measures by which schools and districts are judged, they are continuing to expand funding to private schools while keeping the performance of these schools protected from public view. Shouldn’t Ohio’s taxpayers know how this large annual diversion of public funds is being used?