Students and Parents Are Given Little Choice When it Comes to School Choice

Greg R. Lawson Aug 31, 2017

More families in Ohio should be able have to avail themselves of school choice than are being allowed to. This is a tragedy for those seeking to escape schools that are not meeting their needs.

Ohio is one of only a few states where it’s largest school choice program, the EdChoice Scholarship, is available only to those students who are assigned to failing schools. However, due to the safe harbor provision, which suspends the consequences of schools failing tests for the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, many students are not eligible for EdChoice even if they are in a failing school.

For example, this map shows EdChoice eligible districts for the 2016-2017 school year after applying the safe harbor provisions. As you can see, students in only a few areas of the state are eligible.

As a comparison, this map shows how many areas would become eligible for EdChoice in the absence of the safe harbor provisions. They look radically different and show just how many students in failing would be able to take advantage of the EdChoice program if it were not for the safe harbor restriction.

Another program available to lower income families is the EdChoice Expansion Program. This program allows students from lower income families to escape failing schools irrespective of the results from state testing. However, given the funding mechanism and the fewer dollars available, far fewer students are able to access the program.

There are several solutions to this sad state of affairs. First, safe harbor provisions should be eliminated so that EdChoice can function the way it was intended. Alternatively, Ohio should scrap the failing schools model completely and shift to a full income-based approach similar to how the EdChoice Expansion Program operates. Given that few states have a failing school model, this type of shift would bring Ohio closer in line with school choice programs in other states.

Even better, Ohio should move towards fully embracing education savings accounts, (ESA) as outlined in The Buckeye Institute’s report, Education Savings Accounts: Expanding Education Options for Ohio.

The report outlines precisely how ESAs would enable parents to customize their child’s education to meet his or her unique needs. For example, ESAs would allow parents to pay not only for private schools, but also allow them to use any remaining money in the account to pay for additional educational items such as textbooks, tutors, enroll students in online classes, or even save money for college.

At the end of the day, Ohio should stop short-changing parents’ ability to choose the best education environment for their children. Every student has the right to be given all of the tools they need to succeed. They should not be denied due to policies that protect school systems over school students.

Greg R. Lawson is the research fellow at The Buckeye Institute.