Ohio lawmaker says getting rid of performance-based vouchers will help public school system

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"We have a constitutional duty to protect the public school system and under EdChoice, we're decimating it," Sen. Sean O'Brien said

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – A new education bill passed in the Ohio House Wednesday night and now it’s headed to the Senate. Senate Bill 89 could have a direct impact on students in our area.

“The system itself is flawed, so that’s what we’re trying to fix,” Sen. Sean O’Brien said.

He believes that fix is SB 89, which passed 88-7 in the House.

If it passes in the Senate as well, the bill would change what is now called the EdChoice program to the Buckeye Opportunity Scholarship program.

The new program would make school vouchers income-based. Vouchers would be given to students based on their financial need.

Vouchers based on a school’s performance would be gone. Students currently in the performance-based voucher program would be grandfathered in.

“We have a constitutional duty to protect the public school system and under EdChoice, we’re decimating it,” O’Brien said.

He said a big reason he supports the new bill is the way the money would be distributed. Under the current EdChoice program, students who leave are given a maximum $6,000 in a voucher from the school they are leaving.

“Under the income-based, the state will pay for the students that leave and it will not be divisive toward the school system,” O’Brien said.

Youngstown City Schools CEO Justin Jennings said the current EdChoice program has been hurting Youngstown since it started but now he thinks others are feeling the negative effects, too.

“It’s alarming to everybody now because now it affects so many people. But for the last three or four years, we’ve lost over 5,000 kids due to the EdChoice program.”

Mary Fiala, superintendent of schools in the Youngstown Catholic Diocese, released a statement Thursday:

“We value the EdChoice program, which empowers parents, saves taxpayer dollars and strengthens all educational offerings, public and private. As Catholics, we believe parents are the primary educators of their children and, therefore, parental choice in education is a fundamental right.

Until we know exactly where the final law will land, it is difficult to predict the impact on our families in the Diocese. The uncertainty of new legislation is creating hardships for families who planned to rely on the EdChoice Scholarship opportunities for the 2020-2021 school year in the law passed July 1, 2019.”

If passed, the bill would also eliminate the Academic Distress Commissions in Ohio and stop any new ones from being created until January 2024. There are only three in the state, including in the Youngstown City School District.

That means the state makes decisions for the district. Without the commission, control would be given back to the local school board.

“It’s up to the locals to develop their own program, their own school boards to say, ‘OK, these are the problems we’re having, we need to fix it and here’s how we do it,'” O’Brien said.

For Jennings, it’s unclear where his position as district CEO would stand if the bill passed.

“I knew taking the job, I knew it could be a job that I have for one day after I sign my contract or it could be for three years. So our focus is really educating the scholars of Youngstown.”

The bill still needs to pass in the Ohio Senate before any changes are made.

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle

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