New Limits Added To Contested Ohio Voucher Bill

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A lawmaker who wants to expand private school vouchers in Ohio is putting new restrictions on his plan in response to public schools' concerns over losing their tax money.

Schools in more than half of Ohio's 614 districts have passed resolutions over the past two months opposing state Rep. Matt Huffman's bill to widen the program that gives parents tax dollars to pay their child's private school tuition, The Columbus Dispatch reported Tuesday.

The Republican legislator from Lima said at a news conference Monday that he wants to protect public schools and doesn't want "to see any doomsday scenarios." Huffman said he hopes the revised plan addresses those concerns, but the changes are not likely to be enough to win the support of public school officials
in Ohio's cash-strapped school districts, the newspaper reported.

"It's still transferring public dollars to private schools, and it's not limited to schools having difficulty. It makes vouchers available to any child in any district," said Damon Asbury, legislative director for the Ohio School Boards Association.

The changes would lower income guidelines to restrict eligibility, cap the number of vouchers available in each school district and reduce the amount a student can receive.

Under Huffman's latest proposal, vouchers would be available to families with household incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $67,050 a year for a family of four. That would limit private school scholarships to not more than 1 percent of students per school district, or about 17,000 students statewide.

Huffman's original proposal would have expanded the program to families with incomes up to $95,000 a year.

Voucher amounts would vary by school district. A voucher must be equal to the cost of the private school tuition up to $4,500 a year, but no more than the amount of per-pupil state aid received by the district. Vouchers could amount to only a few hundred dollars in districts receiving little state aid, while students in
schools receiving more state money would be eligible for the maximum.

Huffman said he wants to make sure districts wouldn't lose any local tax money. He also is dropping a provision that allowed parents to deposit unused voucher money into a college savings account.

School choice advocates support the bill.

Jason Warner, legislative director for School Choice Ohio, said "thousands of families" are waiting for the program so their children "can finally have access to a high-quality education that best meets their learning needs."

Vouchers currently are available to students in low-performing schools regardless of income. Schools in 28 districts met the criteria this year, with 15,219 students receiving vouchers, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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