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An Educator's Take on EdChoice in Ohio

Jan 07, 2020

Disclaimer: This is a blog.  This is a blog run solely by a classroom teacher who is stepping into the coaching and entrepreneurial realm with hopes of making an impact on other teachers and their classrooms.  The opinions shared in this post are completely and exclusively the opinions of the writer with evidence from Ohio's recent changes to the Edchoice laws provided at the EdChoice Scholarship Program website.

Using a single state's decision to shed light on a bigger issue

I live in Ohio - always have. 

I educate in Ohio - always have. 

There have been some recent changes in laws on school choice that will impact public schools in Ohio, big time.

So, I'm taking the opportunity NOT to just spout off about those changes (although, if someone is going to spout off about education, it should be mostly teachers that we listen to... just my humble opinion).  Instead, I'm using this opportunity provided by these recent changes to shed a little light on how school choice MIGHT impact public schools in other states too. At least in Ohio, what I share in this blog is exactly how schools will be impacted by the new EdChoice laws.  In other states, it may be different, but I'm hoping that what I share here today sheds some light on potential new EdChoice laws and how we all should care about this issue.

A Simple Description of School Choice

Providing families with the ability to choose where their children attend school is not a new idea.  Nor is the intention of school choice something anyone can argue with. Especially given how Ohio chooses to fund it's schools, leaving mostly the inner city, impoverished, and underrepresented left to squander year after year given the revolving door of tests and stricter mandates, all of which have scores tied to them that will determine if MORE tests, rules, mandates, and general hoops to jump through will be added to their to-do list by the state the following year; as if they don't have enough to deal with already.

Giving a family who is stuck in an underperforming district (because of the poor system of how we fund our schools) a way out, although just a bandaid on a much larger wound, for one child can make such a great impact we can't argue against at this moment.  But, like most things in politics, the intention of the law is muddled with and manipulated, and ends up becoming something with entirely different intention and overall effects.

In Ohio, there has been some form of school choice that looks similar to what currently exists since 2006, and was expanded upon by the Ohio Education Department in 2013, and then most recently morphed into what will impact schools starting in the 2020-2021 school year.

School choice, by definition, includes a wide array of options provided to families that offers them an alternative school to send their children when the one they are assigned to attend by location of their residence is underperforming.  

The most common school choice programs in the United States are ones that provide a scholarship tax credit or state subsidy school vouchers to families so that they can attend the school of their choice.  Other options include charter schools, magnet schools, online schools, and home schooling.

I will say, quickly, that although I don't want to take choice away from a family who has no good option, school choice is a bandaid on a very large problem.  And, putting the bandaid on it in the way the state has done is making the wound worse. 

When we tell families that they can leave the school they are assigned to, and do so with no regard to the school and the kids who are still be educated there, we are telling those kids "you don't matter."  You don't matter because you don't have a family who's willing, able, or educated enough to take advantage of school choice.  And we're going to show you that you don't matter by continuing to place mandates on your schools that has them jumping through hoops rather than meeting the true needs of their students.  School choice is a big middle finger to public schools.  It says "you're the problem, and we're not going to help you fix it."

So what's the deal in Ohio?

Effective for the 2020-2021 school year, new qualifiers have been added to the criteria that determines if a school should be red flagged as "underperforming," putting 1200 schools on the list.  You read that right... one thousand two hundred schools.  

Of those 1200 low performing schools, 582 received an A, B, or C on their state report card in 2018-2019.

What does that say about the qualifiers?  You're welcome to peruse through the 26 PAGE list and see some of the schools on it... you'll be shocked.  To name a couple, for my Ohio readers, schools from Indian Hill, Wyoming, and Solon are all on the list.  Really? Really??

The document pictured below (click it to see the full webpage) shows the criteria for the 2020-2021 school year that would land any Ohio school on the list.

You'll notice that the Ohio Department of Education pulled data from three different school years.  The most recent two school years of 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, and one from SIX YEARS AGO. This means that my son's school, Elda Elementary is on this list because of one D they got back in 2014.

What about that Report Card?

Landing on the list as "low performing" is determined by the district's report card.  I've stated that - duh, that's the measure.  But let's chat about that just a bit.

Here at Teach On A Mission, it is our top priority to leverage teachers as experts in education; to boost teachers as the louder voice amongst those that make decisions about our schools.

The voices that created this report card are those of politicians.  The men and women who determine how our schools will be graded have never graded a paper in their lives.  

Plus, just google it.  The report card sucks.  It's incredibly cumbersome.  I'm an educator and I like talking shop... but I don't want to touch that shop talk with a 30 foot pole.  Don't read it.  Or do, but pour a tall one to get you through it.

In my time in the classroom, the report card and the tests it carried with it changed in some fashion countless times.  I lost count of the staff and department meetings we had to determine how we would be responding to the changes so that we could make sure our kids were prepared.  As a principal's wife, I can't begin to describe the stress that's carried by those who have to rework the pathways in which students might graduate.

Once a school is on the list, what's next?

Any student who would like to attend another school due to their assigned school being "low performing" is eligible for a scholarship.  This "scholarship" (I swear I'm not being Joey on friends with the air quotes here) is an amount of money that would be taken from the budget of the school students would no longer be attending, and given to the school of their choice.  

If you would like to explore the list of 496 private schools, called "providers," you can check those out here

There's a giant smack in the face I would like everyone to take note of from this page.  Please go check it out and then come back here.

Please notice this direct quote,

"Once you know that your child is eligible for the EdChoice Scholarship Program, the next step is to find a participating private school and apply for enrollment.  Students must first be accepted for enrollment at the participating private school and then they can apply for the scholarship. The private school will submit the scholarship application for your child through the secure online scholarship application system."

How obvious are they wanting to make it that their intention is to take students from public schools and put them into private schools?  Are there zero public schools that could be "providers?" Of the 612 public school districts in the state of Ohio (a total of 3,592 schools), none of them can be on the list?

On this page from the Ohio Department of Education, they have the audacity to call the state’s public school districts "Our Districts and Schools," and then on the EdChoice Scholarship Program page that shows us the "providers," only private schools make the cut as being a viable option?  Their very obvious intention is to get kids from "Our Schools" and put them into private schools.

Impact on Schools

Every single family whose child is assigned to attend a school that's on the low-performing list now qualifies to receive $4,650 per child per year in grades K-8, and then $6,000 per child per year in grades 9-12.  This means that each child who takes advantage of the publicly provided private school scholarship will cost the public school district $65,850 over a 13 year period.  That's a teacher.

Please also note, that even if a school gets off the list, this money will be pulled for a child who gets the scholarship for the rest of their private education career.  This money comes directly from the public school district.

This money comes directly from tax payers who decided to fund their public district.  This money that comes from taxpayers goes to a church.

I don't think I need to say it, but I think I'm going to say it.  O man, maybe I shouldn't... I can't help it.  There goes public money into private hands.  So much for separation of church and state.

But let's spend a little more time here talking about these "providers." 

First, I feel impelled to mention that although I am a public education advocate through and through... I'm a product of it, I am an employee of it, and I will send my children through it, I don't hold anything against any one parochial school.  I have good friends who are teachers in private schools.  I have good friends who send their children to private schools.

I will not make an attack on the private schools in my state as my state has made an attack on the public schools in which I'm a product of.

But I will state facts.

The Facts

Public schools on the list of "low-performing" schools are put on that list due to indicators set by the state of Ohio and its annual report card.  Public schools are measured on countless fronts, namely by the mandated standardized tests and value-added scores.  

I'll say it another way - public schools that don't meet the state's performance indicators are placed on a list that takes money from them and sends it to schools who need not meet any such indicators.

Private schools that are on the list of "providers" as better alternatives to Ohio's public schools do not have to meet ANY measure whatsoever that would deem them as a better alternative.  No test, no mandates, like I said... no measure.

So do I really need to ask the question out loud?  What makes these private schools better?  

You might think that I would say nothing, nothing makes them better.  But there is something.  The fact that they can choose who they accept.  They are better because they can stand at the door and turn kids away.  They can turn away any kid who gets less than a 28 on their ACT.  They can turn away kids who need an aid or special services in order to learn in school. 

The EdChoice Scholarship Program website states it clear as day...

"Students must first be accepted for enrollment at the participating private school and then they can apply for the scholarship. The private school will submit the scholarship application for your child through the secure online scholarship application system."

Private schools have the autonomy to accept anyone who wants to attend their school.  This is nothing new.  Of course they can, they are privately funded.

So when all these children who now qualify for scholarships start applying for admittance to these private schools, who is it that you think the private schools are going to accept?

I'll tell you who - the National Merit Scholars, the star quarterback athletes, and students with no lower than a 28 ACT score.

Will they serve our children who are English Language Learners?  Will they graciously serve our children with special needs?  Will children with behavioral challenges be provided opportunities to succeed in a parochial environment?  What about the kids who don't even have an adult in their lives to take the initiative or have the education that allows them to fill out the application?

The answer is NO.

They will stand at the door and decide who is allowed in and who isn't.  It's always been this way, and now the state is feeding this division between the high achieving and low achieving... the ever widening gap.

The gaps in who this program benefits will widen as public schools serve all.

Public educators stand at the door and welcome EVERYONE.  They can't turn anyone away, and that's exactly the way it should be.  Raise your hand public school teacher and administrator and classroom aid.  I see you. We are together on this.  We know who we're here for.  And it sure as hell isn't the people creating these laws.

This is about the kids who will be turned away and the kids who will be left behind in public school classrooms, as the money that was funding their classroom is now following the star athletes and National Merit Scholars.

Oh, by the way, the state is going to continue to play judge, jury and executioner for those public schools expecting them to improve and maintain all current programming on the same standards, with less money.  Oh, and while having just lost your traditionally high performing kids. 

Not so long-term impact

If this law remains as is, which is highly likely given that applications open up on February 1, less than three weeks away at the time I'm writing this post, there are only two ways our public schools can handle this kind of blow.

It's not rocket science - you know how budgets work.  They'll have to increase money coming in or decrease money going out.  This will be the choice they have to make.

One option is to return to the public and ask for more money.  So now everyone's taxes go up, all in the name of sending kids to private schools.

The other option is to cut spending.  And when roughly 75-85% of a district's budget is humans, guess who (not what) gets cut.... people.  When those people are teachers guess what happens to classrooms when there are less teachers?  They get bigger, compounding the effects on children who either didn't apply for the scholarship or were turned away by the schools who only wanted the scholars and the athletes.

What can be done?

The better question is, what can we as tax payers do to support the public education of our children? 

Light up your representatives.

Before the politicians left Columbus back in December for the holiday break, they were getting lit up.  People were calling, intense conversations were had.

But we all know what politicians can be the greatest at... delaying.  They're thinking right now, "let's see if people are still thinking about this when the new year comes around.  We've only got three weeks, it will die down."

Don't let it die down.

Here's the website you can visit to find the name and contact information for the people who represent you.

Call them.  Leave multiple messages.  Email them.

Don't know what to say?  Yes you do.  Don't doubt yourself.  If you're reading this post, I'm betting you have the passion and heart to call and say what needs to be said.  Tell them you'll remember their name, and so will everyone you talk to from now until the next election day when their seat is up.  That is your right, use it, and use it for these kids who will be left and forgotten because our state would rather send the scholars and athletes to private schools.

Until next time,

 P.S. To make sure you don't miss any other posts from Mandy or Teach On A Mission, be sure to join our list and be notified of all posts.



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