If you’re at all involved in Ohio education policy, you’ve heard about the anti-voucher lawsuit that was recently filed by the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding.
If you’re at all involved in Ohio education policy, you’ve heard about the anti-voucher lawsuit that was recently filed by the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. The coalition, which is made up of dozens of traditional public school districts, hopes that a victory will spell the end of the EdChoice Scholarship Program, which served over 50,000 kids during the 2020–21 school year.
The lawsuit opens with the assertion that EdChoice poses an “existential threat” to Ohio’s public school system. The claims that follow outline several arguments in favor of abolishing the program. My colleague Aaron Churchill recently did a very thorough and efficient job of debunking the lawsuit’s claim that EdChoice has created an inequitable funding system. But there are a few other erroneous claims that also deserve rebuttals. And one of the most significant is that EdChoice is unconstitutional.
Most of the plaintiffs’ case is predicated on Article VI, Section 2 of the Ohio constitution, which reads: “The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State; but, no religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this State.”
The plaintiffs’ arguments against this provision can be boiled down to this: First, the expansion of EdChoice has, in their words, “created multiple state-wide systems of publicly-funded, uncommon, private schools.” The program offends the constitution in doing so, as they believe the law “authorizes the state only to fund a thorough and efficient system of common, i.e., public, schools.” Second, because many of the private schools that participate in EdChoice are religious, the lawsuit claims that the program violates the Ohio constitution by “placing hundreds of millions of dollars in school funds within the exclusive, unfettered control of private (mostly religious) institutions.”
Both arguments miss the mark, and here’s why.
A thorough and efficient system of common schools
This argument hinges on an assumption, which is that the phrase “common schools” means traditional public schools and only traditional public schools. Given that the historical common schools movement is predicated on the notion that every child should have access to free public schools, it’s not altogether surprising that the plaintiffs have gone in this direction. But ultimately, arguing that the constitution’s mandate for “a thorough and efficient system of common schools” means the state can only fund traditional public schools is misguided for two reasons.
First, the constitution calls for the state to fund a system of common schools. And a system, by definition, is “a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole.” Ohio’s current education landscape is made up traditional public districts, charter public schools, STEM schools (which are public but operated independently of a district), and private schools. These schools are unified by a common goal to educate kids, and the ability of Ohio families to choose where to send their children means schools must regularly interact with each other and the community. Ohio’s schooling landscape—and the diverse options that are part of that landscape—clearly fit the definition of a system.
Moreover, there is no provision within the constitution that requires schools within the mandated system to operate under the same governance structure. In fact, it’s widely accepted that systems have different and unique parts. The human respiratory system, for example, is made up of the mouth and nose, the sinuses, the pharynx, and the lungs. Each part is responsible for helping our bodies breathe, but they don’t accomplish that goal in the exact same way. If they did, they wouldn’t be a system—they would be a group of identical parts. The same is true for education. Traditional district, charter, STEM, and private schools that accept vouchers reach their shared goal in distinctive ways, but striving toward the same goal makes them a system. So, too, does the fact that they all must meet the same health and safety guidelines, administer annual state tests, and hold students to the same graduation standards.
Second, the lawsuit overlooks an important precedent. In 2001, a group of traditional public school advocates filed a lawsuit alleging that Ohio’s charter school law was unconstitutional. They claimed that charters—referred to as “community schools” in law—weren’t part of the common school system. In 2006, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law and ruled that the General Assembly had not transgressed the limits of its legislative power. Writing for the majority, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger explained: “In enacting community school legislation, the General Assembly added to the traditional school system by providing for statewide schools that have more flexibility in their operation. Community schools were designed to give parents a choice.” She added that “the expressed legislative intent is to provide a chance of educational success for students who may be better served in their educational needs in alternative settings.”
It’s not difficult to see how this could be applied to the recently-filed voucher lawsuit. In enacting EdChoice legislation, the General Assembly didn’t abandon the traditional public school system. In fact, lawmakers have continued to support and fund Ohio’s traditional school districts at increasing levels over the past two decades. All they did was add more educational options that empower families to choose schools that best meet the needs of their children.
The second half of Article VI, Section 2 relates to religion. The plaintiffs argue several times that because students can use a voucher to attend a religious school, the state is thereby funding religious entities. But that claim runs counter to a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2002, the Court ruled in Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris that the Cleveland Scholarship Program didn’t violate the Establishment Clause. Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote that the program “is entirely neutral with respect to religion” and that it “provides benefits directly to a wide spectrum of individuals.”
This same reasoning holds true for EdChoice. Any and all Ohio private schools, regardless of religious affiliation, are welcome to participate. The program doesn’t prioritize religious schools, and a program that is “neutral with respect to religion” cannot and does not provide “an exclusive right” to state funds. Furthermore, because EdChoice scholarships are given to families—a “wide spectrum of individuals,” to use Justice Rehnquist’s words—rather than to private schools, the state can’t be accused of funding private schools, religious or otherwise. The lawsuit asserts that EdChoice places “hundreds of millions of dollars in school funds within the exclusive, unfettered control of private (mostly religious) institutions.” But based on what the U.S. Supreme Court decided two decades ago, that’s not true. Voucher programs like EdChoice place funding in the hands of families who then make a choice about which school their child will attend. It’s through families, not the state, that taxpayer funds reach private schools.
It’s telling that this lawsuit opens with a declaration that EdChoice poses “an existential threat” to public schools. It makes the plaintiffs’ intentions crystal clear. This isn’t about kids, or families, or communities. It’s not about making sure that every kid has a chance to attend a school that will meet their needs. It’s about giving a particular set of schools—and a particular group of people—an opportunity to reclaim a monopoly on state funding regardless of how well they serve kids. Ohio families deserve better than that.
Last week, five school districts filed a lawsuit in the Franklin County courts that attempts to strike down EdChoice, Ohio’s private scholarship program that serves roughly 50,000 school children, many of whom are among the neediest kids in the state. The plaintiffs allege that offering these scholarships harms public school systems and thus offends the state constitution. The complaint, however, is riddled with sketchy data and questionable arguments, and it omits solid research evidence showing that EdChoice, like kindred scholarship programs across the nation, actually has neutral to positive effects on public schools. Predictably, the lawsuit also ignores the program’s benefits to the families who now have the opportunity to choose schools that better meet their children’s needs.
Amid their many distortions, the plaintiffs’ most deceptive claim is that students attending traditional public schools receive less funding than scholarship students. They contend that:
Under H.B. 110, the Ohio Department of Education must pay $5,500.00 for each EdChoice voucher recipient in grades K-8, and $7,500.00 for each EdChoice voucher recipient in grades 9-12. In contrast, the average per pupil foundation funding allotted to public school districts is an average of about $4,008.00 per pupil for FY22. This amount is less than the least expensive EdChoice Voucher.
This disparity in funding is even more pronounced for the students attending schools in many of the Plaintiff Districts, where those students receive thousands of dollars less in state foundation funding on a per-pupil basis than their similarly situated voucher recipient counterparts.
This boils down to a claim that school districts are victims of an inequitable funding system. That would be worrisome if it were true. But it isn’t. The plaintiffs distort the truth by omitting key funding policies and the billions of dollars that those policies generate for traditional districts. Consider what the plaintiffs either missed or chose to ignore.
First, as part of the state foundation program, Ohio requires local districts to levy at least a 20 mill (or 2 percent) property tax. Those state-required dollars are excluded from the district funding amounts presented by the plaintiffs. In conjunction with direct state formula funding, this statutorily-driven tax ensures that all Ohio districts have sufficient baseline resources. As such, it’s a policy that cannot simply be ignored in debates about whether Ohio is meeting its constitutional obligations. Unfortunately, the plaintiffs do exactly that—omitting these foundational dollars—perhaps in an effort to manufacture a problem that doesn’t actually exist.
As Table 1 indicates, when the required property tax is included, the alleged inequity goes away. Combining state formula aid with the state-mandated property tax (which is built into Ohio’s entire school funding system), traditional districts receive on average $8,654 per pupil. That’s more than twice the district average that is cited by the plaintiffs ($4,008 per pupil) and above the scholarship amounts. The table below also illustrates the “progressiveness” of Ohio’s funding formula. It recognizes the uneven property wealth across districts and intentionally distributes more state aid to those that raise smaller amounts through property taxes. Among the five plaintiff districts, for instance, Lima and Barberton receive the most formula aid from the state—$11,530 and $8,526 per pupil, respectively—which more than offsets the smaller amounts that those districts generate on a 2 percent property tax.
Table 1: Plaintiff districts’ state funding amounts, plus the state required 2 percent property tax
† I calculate these figures by dividing a district’s net state formula funding, as reported in the Ohio Department of Education’s January 7th payment reports for FY 22, by its FY 22 enrollment. The use of FY 22 funding data ensures that district amounts are comparable to the EdChoice scholarship amounts cited by the plaintiffs, which first applied in FY 22. * I calculate these figures by multiplying a district’s property values, as reported by the Ohio Department of Taxation for the 2020 tax year (TY 20), by 0.02. Data from TY 20 are the most recent available.
Second, subject to local voter approval, school districts have the authority to levy additional property taxes, i.e., more than 2 percent. Although these discretionary dollars could be seen as being outside the state foundation program, they generate millions more in revenue for traditional districts. The vast majority of districts do this, and the average property tax rate statewide was 3.64 percent (or 36.4 mills) in TY 20. When discretionary property tax dollars are added—none of which support private school students—we see district funding rise even more. Table 2 includes these dollars (which are also excluded by the plaintiffs). It shows that district funding statewide and in the five plaintiff districts easily exceeds the EdChoice scholarship amounts by almost $5,000 to more than $10,000 per pupil.
Table 2: Plaintiff districts’ state and local taxpayer funding combined
* I calculate these figures by multiplying a district’s property values, as reported by the Ohio Department of Taxation for TY 20, by the difference in a district’s effective property tax rate and 0.02. Data from TY 20 are the most recent available.
Third, overall spending on traditional district students’ education far exceeds EdChoice scholarship amounts. If anything, scholarship students are the ones who are treated unfairly. In the end, what matters is the overall resources available to educate students—not necessarily where the dollars come from. When it comes to overall spending totals—here including dollars generated from federal, state, and local sources—Barberton spent $14,762 per pupil in FY 21, Cleveland Heights University Heights spent $21,669 per pupil, Columbus spent $13,930 per pupil, Lima spent $16,113 per pupil, and Richmond Heights spent $18,094 per pupil. The plaintiff districts’ spending figures all exceeded the statewide district average that year ($13,387 per pupil) and were about two to three times the EdChoice scholarship amounts.
School funding is—and has long been—a joint effort between the state and local districts. In fact, the ability to raise money locally is often viewed as central to the cherished notion of “local control.” As the lawsuit moves forward, the courts must do a more comprehensive analysis of district funding that recognizes the state-required property tax—which ensures every district contributes its fair share—and looks at money generated via all taxpayer sources. If they do this, they’ll soon see that the plaintiffs’ story is a work of fiction.
 The plaintiffs’ complaint appears to rely on funding projections, as it was filed prior to the first payments made under the new formula in FY 22. That may explain differences in their figures versus my calculations. FY 22 state funding for Cleveland Heights-University Heights and Richmond Heights are likely affected by an anomaly in the FY 21 funding system (a suspended formula) and the phase-in of the new formula. Under a fully implemented formula, both districts would receive more than $3,000 per pupil in state aid according to June 2021 projections from LSC.
On January 3, Justin Bibb was sworn in as the new mayor of Cleveland. His inauguration marks the first time the city has had new leadership since 2006.
Under normal circumstances, the election of a new mayor doesn’t mean much for a city’s schools. There might be photo ops and some campaign promises, but mayors typically have very little power over what happens in classrooms. Cleveland, however, is one of a few exceptions nationwide. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) has been under mayoral control since 1997, when the General Assembly passed House Bill 269, which gives the mayor power to shape the local school board. It was former mayor Frank Jackson who introduced the Cleveland Plan, a city-wide education turnaround effort aimed at raising student achievement, increasing parental engagement, and encouraging the growth of quality public school options. The plan has guided the district’s work since 2012, and a recently updated version will do the same over the next several years. As the city’s new mayor, Bibb won’t just inherit control of Ohio’s second largest school district—he’ll also be responsible for overseeing the continued progress of the Cleveland Plan.
That’s a lot for a new mayor, so it’s fortunate that Bibb is stepping into a fairly stable situation. While city leadership has changed, district leadership has not. Eric Gordon has been the district’s Chief Executive Officer since 2011. Not only has he been at the helm during the entirety of the Cleveland Plan’s implementation, he worked alongside former Mayor Jackson to lobby state legislators and get the plan put into law. His tenure hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but there’s no denying that Gordon has been a consistent presence during negotiations with the local teachers’ union, state policy changes, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. For a first-time mayor, working alongside an experienced leader who’s been embedded in the community for over a decade is a huge plus.
Bibb and his constituents can also take comfort in the fact that Cleveland schools appear to be headed in the right direction. Each year, the Cleveland Transformation Alliance (CTA) releases an annual report that documents the district’s progress against a broad set of goals. The most recent report lists plenty of pre-pandemic positives. For example, since the advent of the PRE4CLE program in 2014, enrollment in high-quality preschool has increased by 72 percent. CMSD has narrowed the graduation gap between its students and the state average by 78 percent since 2010, and district graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students are outpacing the same rates statewide. A recent study that analyzed student-level data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that Cleveland showed statistically significant positive effects in fourth and eighth grade math and eighth grade reading. These impressive gains have earned Cleveland the moniker as one of the fastest-improving city school districts in the country.
The pandemic has surely impacted this progress. Moving forward, district and community leaders should be intentional about identifying learning loss and addressing it. The recently-revised Cleveland Plan should help with that, and the Bibb administration will benefit from having a plan already in place.
But that doesn’t mean the new mayor won’t get a chance to advocate for his own ideas, too. In fact, Bibb has some experience in education—he’s the co-chair of the Ohio Advisory Board for Teach For America—and many of the suggestions he listed on his campaign site are research-backed proposals that could help schools get students back on track. They include repeating the CMSD Summer Learning Experience, expanding tutoring options, improving internet connectivity and online offerings, and developing more college and career pathways, as well as partnerships with local employers and postsecondary institutions.
To be sure, the enduring pandemic, its persistent economic fallout, and an ongoing spike in violent crime will give the newly elected mayor plenty to do. But Bibb has promised to “offer constructive ideas, an active presence, and strong leadership to help stimulate and sustain CMSD’s very difficult work.” Such a promise seems to indicate a desire to take a hands-on approach to leading the district. And given the outsized impact of the pandemic on Cleveland schools, that’s good news.
While it’s no secret that pandemic-induced remote learning was a disaster for almost all students in 2020 and 2021, we must remind ourselves that in-person education models weren't so great for a lot of kids even before the plague struck. It’s also clear that some students fared better than others while learning from home. What we are still trying to understand is why some students seem to have weathered the transition to remote instruction better than others. A new report digs into Tennessee data from the early days of the pandemic to document what the experience was like for schools and students and to add detail to the larger picture.
The researchers utilized multiple data sources to capture school and district characteristics, estimates of community-level broadband access, open-ended responses from over 10,000 Volunteer State teachers surveyed in spring 2020 regarding technological challenges and types of remote instruction, and school district policy responses related to technology needs.
Prior to the pandemic, 91 percent of Tennesseans had broadband availability (i.e., at least one provider offering fixed high-speed broadband services in their census tract) and 78 percent of households had at least one computer with a high-speed broadband subscription. While the predictable gaps were found between urban and rural and richer and poorer families, the overwhelming prevalence of internet access in the state is certainly eye-opening.
Once the pandemic—and school closures—began, 68 percent of surveyed teachers reported regularly sending electronic learning resources to students via email or learning management systems such as Google Classrooms and Class Dojo. Thirty-three percent reported regularly sending physical learning resources home with students, and 28 percent reported regularly holding synchronous virtual classes or tutoring sessions with students. Rural teachers were most likely to report using physical resources (packets or textbooks), while urban teachers were most likely to report holding virtual classes. School-level economic disadvantage was negatively associated with the likelihood of teachers regularly providing electronic learning resources or holding virtual classes and tutoring in all geographic contexts.
While this makes sense if schools were sure that their lower-income families did not have broadband access or a compatible device, the FCC and ACS data throws some doubt on that possibility. Instead of the true broadband and device access information driving decisions in any given area, the researchers show that the percentage of poor students in a district was more likely to determine remote learning type provided. A 10 point increase in the percentage of economically-disadvantaged students in a rural district was associated with a 16 percent decrease in the likelihood that teachers provided electronic resources and an 18 percent decrease in the likelihood that teachers reported regularly holding virtual classes or tutoring sessions. Those decreases were 13 percent and 23 percent in city or suburban district—again, regardless of actual broadband access and subscription in any given area. Districts appeared to have made assumptions as to who did and didn’t have the ability to access virtual offerings and decided their plans based on those assumptions.
Of the 140 districts in the analysis, researchers found that twenty-two had publicly-available plans to distribute devices to at least some students (to make up specifically for those who had no devices), and thirteen districts had public plans to distribute devices to all students, regardless of their home device status. For internet access, sixteen districts had public plans that mentioned community access points (think free Wi-Fi in school parking lots) or distribution of hotspot devices for students to use at home. The districts with plans to distribute devices to all students were more likely to be located in cities or suburbs, serve fewer economically-disadvantaged students on average, and have higher pre-pandemic broadband access. This seems to reinforce the high/low socioeconomic digital divide so well documented in the early stages of the pandemic. But it also indicates that the easier the lift, the more likely districts were to do the work. Only 19 percent of rural and town districts had public plans to distribute devices to some or all students compared with 52 percent of city and suburb districts. And teachers in those rural and town districts who had plans to connect all students were 2.5 times more likely to report regular engagement in virtual classes or tutoring.
It seems simple to blame lack of virtual learning opportunities on a dearth of broadband access, especially for poor students, but this report seems to indicate more may have been at play in those early, chaotic days of the pandemic. The data and findings in this report, however, only go so far. The researchers note caveats related to building-level differences (synchronous versus asynchronous classes, third-party teaching versus district-based teaching, etc.), family-level differences (such as multi-child households required to share a single device), and non-generalizability of findings beyond Tennessee. It is also unfortunate that the researchers were only able to include traditional school districts in the analysis. Charter and private schools may have been more nimble in connecting and continuing to serve their students using creative methods that cut against the findings here.
The messy snapshot we see from March to May 2020 in Tennessee goes a long way to explaining the learning losses that researchers have tallied since that time. It also suggests that negative academic outcomes should not be laid entirely upon “remote learning” as a singular entity. Rather, the version of remote learning students were provided and their ability to engage with it productively and consistently intertwined to produce these results. Getting the larger picture will be important to tell the full story of what happened at the start of the pandemic, even if we are already reaping what was sown then.
SOURCE: Susan Kemper Patrick, Jason A. Grissom, S. Colby Woods, and UrLeaka W. Newsome, “Broadband Access, District Policy, and Student Opportunities for Remote Learning During COVID-19 School Closures,” AERA Open (December 2021).
The Cincinnati Enquirer recently published a deeply flawed and misleading “analysis” of the EdChoice scholarship (a.k.a. voucher) program. Rather than apply rigorous social science methods, education reporter Max Londberg simply compares the proficiency rates of district and voucher students on state tests in 2017–18 and 2018–19. Based on his rudimentary number-crunching, the Enquirer’s headline writers arrive at the conclusion that EdChoice delivers “meager results.”
Fair, objective evaluations of individual districts and schools, along with programs such as EdChoice, are always welcome. In fact, we at Fordham published in 2016 a rigorous study of EdChoice by Northwestern University’s David Figlio and Krzysztof Karbownik that examined both the effects of the program on public school performance—vouchers’ competitive effects—and on a small number of its earliest participants. But analyses that twist the numbers and distort reality serve no good. Regrettably, Londberg does just that. Let’s review how.
First, the analysis relies solely on crude comparisons of proficiency rates to make sweeping conclusions about the effectiveness of private schools and EdChoice. In addition to declaring “meager results for Ohio vouchers,” the article states that “private schools mostly failed to meet the academic caliber set by their neighboring public school districts.” No analysis that relies on simple comparisons of proficiency rates can support such dramatic judgments. Proficiency rates do offer an important starting point for analyzing performance, as they gauge where students stand academically at a single point in time. But as reams of education research has pointed out, these rates tend to correlate with students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, meaning that schools serving low-income children typically fare worse on proficiency-based measures. No one, therefore, thinks that it’s fair to assess the “effectiveness” of Cincinnati and the wealthy Indian Hills schools based solely on proficiency data.
To offer a more poverty-neutral evaluation, education researchers turn to student growth measures, known in Ohio as “value-added.” These methods control for socioeconomic influences and give high-poverty schools credit when they help students make academic improvement over time. Thus, by looking only at proficiency, the Enquirer analysis ignores private schools that are helping struggling voucher students catch up. To be fair, Ohio does not publish value-added growth results for voucher students (though it really should). Nevertheless, definitive claims cannot be made about any school or program based on proficiency data alone. It risks labelling schools “failures” when in fact they are very effective at helping low-achieving students learn. Lacking growth data, the Enquirer should have demonstrated more restraint in its conclusions about the quality of the private schools serving voucher students, and the program overall.
Second, the analysis mishandles proficiency rate calculations and skews the results against vouchers. Even granting that proficiency rate comparisons are a possible starting point, Londberg makes a bizarre methodological choice when calculating a voucher proficiency rate. Instead of comparing proficiency rates of district and voucher students from the same district, he calculates a voucher proficiency rate for the private schools located in a district. Because private schools can enroll students from outside the district in which they’re located, his comparison is apples-to-oranges. Londberg’s roundabout method might be justified if the state didn’t report voucher results by students’ home district. The state, however, does.
As it turns out, the method matters. Consider how the results change in the districts with the most EdChoice students taking state exams, as illustrated in Figure 1. The gray bars represent a “corrected” calculation of voucher proficiency rates based on pupils’ district of residence. In several districts, the right approach yields noticeably higher rates than what the Enquirer reports (e.g., in Cleveland, Akron, Lorain, and Cleveland Heights-University Heights). In some cases, the correct method changes an apparent voucher disadvantage into an advantage in proficiency relative to the district. For example, vouchers are reported as underperforming compared to the Euclid school district under the Enquirer method. But in reality, Euclid’s voucher students—the kids who actually live there—outperform the district.
Figure 1: Voucher proficiency rates calculated under two methods in the districts with the most EdChoice test-takers, 2017–18 and 2018–19
Notes: The blue and orange bars are based on the Enquirer’s calculations of district and voucher proficiency rates. The gray bars represent my calculations based on the Ohio Department of Education’s proficiency rate data that are reported by voucher students’ home district.
Third, it makes irresponsible comparisons of proficiency rates in districts with just a few voucher students. Due in part to voucher eligibility provisions, some districts (mainly urban and high-poverty) see more extensive usage of vouchers, while others have very minimal participation. In districts with greater voucher participation—places like Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus—it makes some sense to compare proficiency rates (bearing in mind the limitations in point one). It’s less defensible in districts where EdChoice participation is rare to almost non-existent. Londberg, however, includes low-usage districts in his analysis, and Table 1 below illustrates the absurd results that follow. Orange school district, near Cleveland, posts a proficiency rate that is 50 percentage points higher than its voucher proficiency. That’s a big difference. But it’s silly to say that the voucher program isn’t working in Orange on the basis of just a few students. It’s like saying that LeBron James is a terrible basketball player due to one “off night.” Perhaps this small subgroup of students was struggling in the district schools and needed the change of environment offered by EdChoice. Moreover, it’s almost certain that, had more Orange students used a voucher, proficiency rates would have been much closer.
Table 1: District-voucher proficiency rates comparisons in selected districts with few EdChoice students
Note: The Enquirer voucher proficiency rate is based on students attending private schools in that district—it did not report n-counts—not the number of resident students who used an EdChoice voucher (what’s reported in the right-most column above). The EdChoice students in the table above are low-income, as they used the income-based voucher.
Things, alas, go from bad to worse in terms of the results from low-usage districts. In an effort to summarize the statewide results, Londberg states, “In 88 percent of the cities in the analysis, a public district achieved better state testing results than those private schools with an address in the same city.” That statistic is utter nonsense. It treats every district as an equal contributor to the overall result—a simple tally based on whether the district outperformed vouchers—despite widely varying voucher participation. The unfavorable voucher result in Orange, for instance, is given the same weight as the favorable voucher result from a district like Columbus where roughly 5,500 students use EdChoice. That’s hardly an accurate way of depicting the overall performance of EdChoice.
Londberg’s amateur analysis of EdChoice belongs in the National Enquirer, not a feature in a well-respected newspaper such as the Cincinnati Enquirer. Unfortunately, however, this piece is sure to be used by voucher critics to attack the program in political debates. As this “analysis” generates discussion, policymakers should bear in mind its vast shortcomings.
 For Cleveland, the results are based on students receiving the Cleveland Scholarship.
 Another oddity of the Enquirer method is that a number of districts with relatively heavy voucher usage are excluded from the analysis. For example, Maple Heights (near Cleveland) and Mount Healthy (near Cincinnati) have fairly large numbers of EdChoice recipients, but they are excluded because there are no private (voucher-accepting) schools located in their borders.
It’s been a banner year for private school choice in Ohio., which became law this spring, wisely decoupled the state’s from school report card ratings and expanded eligibility to more middle-income families. The built on these improvements by creating a that directly funds choice programs, expanding even further, and increasing scholarship funding amounts.
These changes are a big win for everyday Ohioans who are searching for the best educational fit for their children. But for public school advocates who view choice as a threat, the state’s actions appear to represent yet another harbinger of doom. Their disdain for EdChoice, in particular, is clear in their comments from apublished by the Columbus Dispatch, which purports to take a look at how vouchers gained popularity in Ohio. Amidst the history lesson there are some inaccurate, misleading, and downright troublesome assertions made by voucher critics. Let’s take a look at three of the most egregious.
Claim 1: Private school scholarships drain money from public schools
This is one of the most common arguments against private school choice—and choice more generally—so it’s no surprise that it shows up in the Dispatch piece. In fact, the total cost of educational vouchers during the 2021–22 school year (approximately $628 million) is referenced more than once. Ohio Federation of Teachers president Melissa Cropper even goes so far as to say there is “something wrong” with the state spending so much. She adds: “Even though the money might not be directly taken from a school district right now, there is still only so much state money allocated for education.”
It’s true that the state has a finite amount of money to devote to education. But acting as though EdChoice carries a burdensome price tag that taxpayers wouldn’t have to shoulder if vouchers disappeared isn’t accurate. If a student opts to attend a private school using an EdChoice scholarship, the state money designated for that student simply follows them to the school that’s doing the work of educating them. That’s how student-centered funding works. Moreover, taxpayers don’t pay more when students use vouchers. In fact, for years, Ohioans have actuallywhen students use a voucher. That’s because voucher amounts add up to far less than the overall taxpayer support required to educate a student who attends a district school. Even with scholarship amounts , vouchers will still be funded at far more modest amounts than the statewide average per pupil expenditure.
It’s also unfair to claim that. First and foremost, no school—district, charter, private, or otherwise—is entitled to students. Families have the right to choose where to send their children to school, and schools are allocated money based on students they actually teach, not students they could have taught. To do otherwise would be to prioritize systems—one specific system—over students.
Second, it’s important to remember that schools are funded by state and local dollars., 45 percent of elementary and secondary public school revenues are from local sources. For the most part, these dollars aren’t tied to student enrollment. Districts receive tax payments from their residents regardless of whether those residents have children that attend the district. And contrary to widespread claims that school choice results in lost funding, show that per-pupil funding actually increased between 2000 and 2019 in districts where charters and private schools have historically been the most prevalent.
Finally, although districts’ complaints about losing money might have been understandable when the state funded voucher programs through, that’s no longer the case. The recently passed included a complete overhaul of the school funding formula. As Cropper noted above, money is no longer “directly taken” from districts. There is, quite literally, no loss of funding for districts when a student opts to use a voucher.
Claim 2: School choice is at odds with improving public schools
This is another anti-choice talking point that’s mentioned in the Dispatch. The piece notes that the “thorough and efficient system of common schools” promised by the Ohio Constitution is a mandate to “fix” underperforming public schools. The underlying implication is that rather than paying for families to “escape” to private schools, we should be focusing all our money and attention on improving public schools. This is always framed as an either/or. Policymakers and advocates can either focus on improving traditional public schools, or they can focus on expanding choice programs. They can’t do both.
But that’s a false dilemma. There’s no reason that traditional public schools can’t improve and thrive alongside private and charter schools. In fact, one of the great arguments in favor of choice is that it can spur change and innovation in nearby districts.is proof positive of that. The district was recently named one of the school districts in the country. It is one of only three districts in a nationwide sample that succeeded in improving from negative to positive NAEP impacts between 2009 and 2019. And all of this was accomplished despite the fact—or perhaps because of the fact—that Cleveland students have had access to private school scholarships since 1995 plus a burgeoning charter school sector. A portfolio of school options can breed competition between different types of schools, but it can also lead to if adults are willing. In either case, students benefit. That’s all that should matter.
Claim 3: If parents want their children to attend private schools, they should pay for it
This argument makes an appearance courtesy of Senator Teresa Fedor, who told Dispatch reporters: “I went to private schools, I taught at private schools, I sent my son to a private school, and it was by my choice...I did not expect the public to pay for it.”
There’s a lot wrong with this way of thinking. First and foremost is the Senator’s assumption that, just because she can afford to attend and send her children to private schools, everyone in Ohio can. But according to thereport, nearly 3.5 million Ohioans—more than three out of every ten—live below . That translates to an annual income of $53,000 for a family of four. Meanwhile, in Ohio clocks in at just over $7,000. Without assistance from the state, low-income parents with two kids would need to spend more than a fourth of their annual income just to afford private school tuition. Spending that much isn’t feasible.
Of course, Senator Fedor and others would argue that every Ohio student has access to free public schools. And that’s true. But free doesn’t always equate to good. Consider Toledo, which isthat Senator Fedor represents. On the (the last report card with graded components), Toledo Public Schools (TPS) earned an F in and a D in . Value-added grades for students with disabilities and the lowest-performing 20 percent of students were F’s. And the four-year graduation rate was only 79 percent compared to the of 85 percent.
Parents of students in TPS could wait for the district to turn itself around and improve. That is, after all, what voucher opponents advocate for when they say that state leaders should focus on improving public schools rather than giving families access to other options. But what if families—families just like Senator Fedor’s—aren’t willing to risk their child’s future on a potentially empty promise that their neighborhood school will suddenly improve? Districts like TPS haveunder their belts, in addition to . What if families dare to want something better for their children now?
Unlike their senator, most Toledo parents can’t afford to pay private school tuition. Of the nearly 23,000 students TPS educates,are considered economically disadvantaged. The is just below $38,000, which means the average annual private school tuition bill would amount to almost a fifth of a household’s annual income. Moving to a nearby district is likely out of the question, considering the average home price in neighboring, higher-performing districts like ( ) and ( ). Open enrollment isn’t an option either, since . There are , of course, but seats are limited.
The upshot? Without private school scholarships, lower- and middle-income families who want a different or better option are out of luck. That seems like a problem Senator Fedor should be working to solve. Instead, she’s calling for these programs to be eliminated or scaled back.
When it comes to debates over school choice, misrepresentations are nothing new. Given the wide variety of choice-friendly provisions in the budget, it’s not surprising that the establishment is hitting back. But the complaints refuted here—and several others that appear unchallenged in the Dispatch piece—are inaccurate at best. Ohioans deserve better.