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Ohio lawmakers propose school choice for all students

Two Ohio lawmakers want to give all Ohio students the option of school choice and create K-12 education competition, which they say would raise the level of public and private education throughout the state.

The Ohio Backpack Bill, originally introduced in May and updated with a sub-bill to House Bill 290, would allow all parents to send their children to public school or establish an education savings account. The state would send the money earmarked for that student to the public school or into the parent’s account, allowing it to be used for private school tuition or other education expenses.

“Public education is going to continue to be an option that works for some parents and some students, but it doesn’t work for every student and every parent,” Rep. Marilyn John, R-Shelby, said Wednesday at a news conference. “Competition makes us all get better. We believe wholeheartedly it will make things better.”

Emails to the Ohio Education Association seeking comment were not answered.

The state sends money allocated for each student to the public school district. If a student qualifies for school choice through income-eligibility, the local public school district sends the money to private school.

“It’s about students and increasing the education opportunities for all. This bill seeks to find the right educational opportunity for each of the children in Ohio,” Rep. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky, said. “It creates a true money-follows-the-child program. Money goes to public school if parents want, and if a parent wants an educational scholarship account, then the state has to put that money in that account, which the parent can use for education expenses.”

The bill addresses only state education funding. Local public school districts still would collect local and federal money. The average state expense per student is $6,600, according to Christian Education Network Executive Director Troy McIntosh. The legislation would allocate $5,500 per K-9 student and $7,500 for 9-12 students.

“This is not a bill intended to benefit the kids that want to run off and attend a private school,” McIntosh said. “We want this bill to benefit every student in Ohio. An overwhelming majority of parents are realizing and asking for this sort of program.”

The state treasurer would oversee the program. Educations savings accounts could be used for private school tuition, homeschool expenses, tutoring, books and other educational expenses.

“This model is not new. This approach is gaining momentum in Ohio and nationwide,” McClain said. “We want to fund students not systems. When parents have options, they are more engaged. When schools compete for students, children’s outcomes rise.”

Center for Christian Virtue President Aaron Baer said the bill would give parents recourse in districts similar to Upper Arlington, which recently created single-sex bathrooms, or others that imposed mask mandates.

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