Republican lawmakers have reintroduced a plan to allow state education dollars to be used by every Ohio parent to pay for private school or other education expenses.

House Bill (HB) 11, sponsored by State Representatives Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) and Marilyn John (R-Richland County), aims to make all public, nonpublic, and home-school students in grades K-12 eligible for a state scholarship to attend a nonpublic school or to be home-schooled.

“The Backpack Scholarship Program would empower families to find the best educational environment for their child. As a father of five, I know how different the needs of each child can be and by giving each child the opportunity to pursue the best path will lead to better outcomes. Education is not a one size fits all model. This program recognizes that and allows educational freedom as well as competition. Parental involvement is one of the most important aspects of a child’s education regardless of learning environment,” McClain said.

Under the legislation, an education savings account would fund the scholarships.

Scholarship recipients would receive $5,000 for students K-8 or $7,500 for high school students. The funds could be paid directly to a school or reimbursed to parents.

According to the legislation, when a public school student accepts a scholarship, the state financing follows them to private schools.

The Ohio Legislative Service Commission, a nonpartisan state organization that offers the General Assembly writing, research, budgeting, and fiscal analysis, claims that public school districts whose children accept the scholarship will lose funds.

If all newly eligible students applied for the scholarship, according to the Legislative Service Commission, the bill would cost taxpayers nearly $1.13 billion in the fiscal year 2025.

According to the fiscal note, expenditures would decrease by nearly $11.3 million yearly for every 1 percent of newly eligible nonpublic students who choose not to accept the scholarship.

Opponents of the legislation, such as the coalition called Vouchers Hurt Ohio, say that school vouchers hurt the community by taking money away from the public school system.

“Private school vouchers are unconstitutional. They funnel taxpayer dollars away from our public school system and hurt our community,” Vouchers Hurt Ohio said.

However, Dr. Cy Smith, Superintendent of Mansfield Christian School, said that those claims are not true.

“I would like to address the narrative that private schools steal public funds and public schools suffer as the result. This is simply not true. If this were indeed the case, EdChoice would have been abandoned during the recession 13 years ago as the population of both the state and our schools declined rapidly,” Smith said.

Other proponents of the bill, such as Ohio Parents Right in Education Director Lisa Breedlove Chaffee, said that Ohioans need school choice to protect their children from educators pushing ideology over academics.

“We need school choice so parents can protect their children and execute their parental rights to place their children in schools that are focused on academics and not pushing an ideology,” Chaffee said.

McClain introduced the same bill in the last General Assembly almost two years ago but failed to pass.

Other states, such as Arizona, Iowa, Utah, and most recently, Arkansas, have passed similar legislation in the past several months. Others, such as Florida, are on the cusp of doing so with bipartisan support. Other states are also looking to innovate their education systems to fund students instead of systems.

HB 11 currently has 27 co-sponsors, awaiting further consideration in the Primary and Secondary Education Committee.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Riordan McClain” by The Ohio House of Representatives. Photo “Marilyn John” by Marilyn John, State Representative – District 2. Background Photo “Classroom” by Wokandapix.