Efforts to curb the impact of EdChoice accelerated towards the end of January as legislators in the Senate and House searched for ways to reduce the negative financial impact that the program is anticipated to have on Ohio’s public schools starting next year. Legislators and the governor approved language in last year’s budget bill which was designed to dramatically increase the number of students eligible for the scholarships by more than doubling the number of eligible buildings. Prior to the program expansion, EdChoice was available in 31 school districts and 255 schools. After the expansion, EdChoice eligibility would have extended to at least 426 school districts and 1,227 schools.
Lobbying efforts and contacts from districts to their legislators and to House and Senate committee members to reduce the impact of the changes resulted in the last-minute action to delay implementation of the changes. The 2020-2021 application window for EdChoice would have opened on February 1st, of this year; now, the program application is delayed to April 1st. The House and Senate are expected to review the EdChoice program expansion in the next two months and hopefully will develop amendments to the budget expansion which will better support Ohio’s public school system.
The House initially proposed changes to EdChoice through HB 9. With a deadline of February 1st (the start of the applications of EdChoice scholarships) looming, the Senate passed alternative language late in the evening on January 29th. The Senate’s plan would have reduced the number of school buildings eligible under the traditional EdChoice program, but would also have increased the number of families eligible for the EdChoice expansion program by changing eligibility from 200% to 300% of the federal poverty guidelines for the income-based vouchers.
The bill was sent back to the House, which rejected the changes, and a conference committee convened. The House elected instead to pass House Bill 120, including language delaying the EdChoice application window until April 1st. HB 120 also contained separate provisions that authorize the auditor’s office to conduct performance audits of all state institutions of higher education and also modified requirements for College Credit Plus informational sessions. The bill included an appropriation of $10 million to help fund the EdChoice program. The Senate passed HB 120 on January 31st and the governor signed the bill the same day. The bill is considered an emergency measure and is effective immediately. This move buys the legislature more time to develop a plan that both houses are willing to pass.
February 3rd, 2020 Update: A group of families and private schools filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court challenging House Bill 120 changes to EdChoice. The lawsuit alleges that the legislature failed to properly execute an emergency measure and therefore HB 120 should not go into effect for 90 days. The parties also claim that the HB 120 application delay will cause irreparable harm to new EdChoice eligible students who planned to apply for the scholarship. If successful, the state may be forced to accept applications starting February 1st.
We will keep you posted on developments. The education associations have sent out multiple calls of action on the bills and you are encouraged to continue to stay apprised of developments and let your legislators know how the expansion would affect your district.