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The Buckeye Institute’s Greg Lawson Calls for Greater Education Choice and Opportunities for Ohio’s Families

Jun 20, 2017

Columbus, OH – The Buckeye Institute’s Greg R. Lawson testified today before the Ohio House Education and Career Readiness Committee on Opportunity Scholarship program and education savings accounts that are contained in House Bill 200. In his testimony (see full testimony below), Lawson, who is a research fellow at The Buckeye Institute and a leader in the Ohio school choice movement, urged Ohio to give greater education options and opportunities to families.

“Despite the exceptional resources devoted to schools and education over the last few decades, we have yet to see academic gains commensurate with those investments. At least one reason we seem unable to reap significant gains lies in our failure to adapt to the changing realities of our new century,” said Lawson. “Our education model remains stuck in the post-Industrial Age of 20th century mass production while our children—the supposed beneficiaries of that model—live and think in the increasingly made-to-order 21st.”

Citing a recent report he co-authored on education savings accounts (ESA), Lawson highlighted the benefits of ESAs and the success they have seen in other states. “ESAs give families the purchasing power to create a customized education for their children, empowering them to order from an à la carte menu of education services, instead of suffering the one-size-fits-all model of education currently provided by their government-assigned local public school,” said Lawson. “ESAs allow parents to purchase textbooks, hire tutors, enroll students in online classes, pay private school tuition, and even save money for college. Not surprisingly, in states that have already implemented ESA programs, parents have expressed their approval.”

In closing, Lawson praised the progress Ohio has made and encouraged further changes that will give parents and families more control of their children’s education. “We are pleased to see Ohio take another step in joining the ranks of these school choice sister states. The Opportunity Scholarship, or any other ESA program, are the types of policies that will further empower parents and students to pursue an education tailored to their individual needs and dreams.”

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Interested Party Testimony to the 
Ohio House Education and Career Readiness Committee on House Bill 200

Greg R. Lawson, Research Fellow
The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions
June 20, 2017

Thank you, Chairman Brenner, Vice Chair Slaby, Ranking Member Fedor, and members of the Committee for the opportunity to testify today regarding the Opportunity Scholarship. My name is Greg R. Lawson, and I am the Research Fellow at The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions here in Columbus.

The Buckeye Institute has long been a champion of school choice. In the early days of the Cleveland Scholarship and the dawn of Ohio charter schools, we defended the right of every parent to seek and provide the education best suited to their children. So we take great pride in Ohio’s national leadership in the school choice movement. 

The “Opportunity Scholarships” in House Bill 200 will join with other Ohio programs to give families even more education options and opportunities. House Bill 200 will continue to shift the balance of power in education from a bureaucratic establishment to its rightful place—parents.

Despite the exceptional resources devoted to schools and education over the last few decades, we have yet to see academic gains commensurate with those investments. At least one reason we seem unable to reap significant gains lies in our failure to adapt to the changing realities of our new century. Our education model remains stuck in the post-Industrial Age of 20th century mass production while our children—the supposed beneficiaries of that model—live and think in the increasingly made-to-order 21st.

Today our children watch videos on demand—choosing not only the movie they want to watch, but when and where and how they want to watch it. They expect customized service—on demand—and they get it, in practically every facet of lives except their education. In the name of modernity and progress, schools today offer digital gadgets—iPads, Smartboards, and Chromebooks—but the education they provide is far from personal, customized, or individually tailored to meet the specific needs of specific students. Education continues to be delivered en masse rather than on demand, as if learning is somehow impervious to customization. 

Part of the problem still lies with education’s bureaucratic entrenchment. And part of the solution remains school choice—the critical process of tearing down the bureaucratic silos of our beleaguered education system.

House Bill 200 and the “Opportunity Scholarship” combine the current EdChoice voucher, the EdChoice income eligible expansion, and the Cleveland Scholarship, and streamline the structure of these programs to simplify the application process and expand the pool of eligibly children.

Currently, eligibility for EdChoice scholarships is based upon a failing schools model. This relatively rare structure for voucher programs allows for too much gamesmanship and includes “safe harbor” provisions that have rendered hundreds of otherwise eligible schools ineligible for the program. 

And even though the EdChoice expansion scholarship is income-based, its low eligibility threshold restricts its impact. Consequently, thousands of students miss out on significant EdChoice options. By shifting to a single-income eligibility model that allows for scholarships up to 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, House Bill 200 will provide more students with more options.

In addition to improvements afforded by the “Opportunity Scholarship,” House Bill 200 also includes education savings accounts—or ESAs. This innovative school choice feature significantly expands learning options for families. As The Buckeye Institute recently explained, ESAs begin to realign the education paradigm toward meeting “consumer” interests, namely, parents, children, and taxpayers. By creating a more responsive education system, ESAs give families the purchasing power to create a customized education for their children, empowering them to order from an à la carte menu of education services, instead of suffering the one-size-fits-all model of education currently provided by their government-assigned local public school. I have attached a copy of our report to my testimony for your convenience.

The additional flexibility offered by ESAs distinguishes them from traditional voucher models, making them more like Ohio’s Special Needs and Jon Peterson scholarships. ESAs allow parents to purchase textbooks, hire tutors, enroll students in online classes, pay private school tuition, and even save money for college. Not surprisingly, in states that have already implemented ESA programs, parents have expressed their approval.

In 2011, Arizona became the first state to offer education savings accounts, and currently extends that option to children with special needs; children in active duty military families; children of fallen soldiers; children in underperforming schools; children on tribal lands; children entering kindergarten; and siblings of ESA-eligible students.  

Two months ago, Arizona expanded her program yet again to include more prospective students. Building on Arizona’s groundbreaking efforts, Nevada created a universal ESA option in 2015 for all K-12 students. Since then, Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi have established ESA opportunities, and many other states are now actively considering proposals to provide or expand ESA options for their families. 

We are encouraged to see Ohio joining the ranks of these school choice sister states. House Bill 200 and the “Opportunity Scholarships” will continue Ohio’s progress in empowering parents and students to pursue an education tailored to their individual needs and dreams.

Thank you for your time and attention today. I would be happy to answer any questions that the Committee may have.

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