Lawmakers in Columbus are expected to vote very soon on legislation that has continued to be a topic of debate among educators statewide.
The Parent Choice and Tax Saving Scholarship (PACT) - known as House Bill 136 - was narrowly passed by the House Education Committee in late September.
The bill proposes a change in the state's public-to-private school voucher system. Specifically, the measure would raise income eligibility requirements for the school voucher program in Ohio, allow families to apply for a voucher even if their public school district is designated as "Excellent" academically, and permit's the vouchers to be used for tuition in private schools as well as chartered parochial and faith-based schools.
Proponents for the bill say the measure is not about the schools, but about each individual student and their specific needs. Even in "Excellent" schools, not all students are excelling. The proposal breaks down many barriers that limit the choice of schools parents and students have in their area.
Without question, many students could benefit from improved student-to-teacher ratios and more one-on-one instruction.
However, the Ohio School Board Association has remained opposed to the measure, claiming it simply raids public schools of funding. For each student within a school district who enrolls elsewhere, the district loses a portion of its state funding. Locally, many of our school districts - some of which are already losing students - stand to lose a significant amount of funding if the bill is passed and students leave their public school districts because of it.
Opponents of the bill argue that the state should not use public funding for private or faith-based education. They also argue that the action in many cases would simply subsidize tuitions for families that have already chosen to send their children to private or parochial schools.
The issue may be brought before the Ohio House this week. If passed, it must also be approved by the Senate. There are indications that the bill may be tweaked, but it appears to be moving forward at the present time.
Obviously, the bill would affect different areas in different ways. Ohio's urban areas have a different landscape in the realm of education than do the state's rural areas. It will be interesting to see how local school officials react as this controversial legislation moves ahead.