Ohio Opportunity Scholarship Program Seeks to Expand Parental Choice
A new school choice proposal, Sen. Matt Huffman’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, seeks to help low and middle income families across Ohio to send their children to the school of their choice.
Under the proposal (SB 85 and HB 200), each eligible student in grades K-8 would receive a scholarship up to $5,000. Each eligible student in grades 9-12 would receive a scholarship up to $7,500. Scholarships would cover tuition and uniformly imposed fees. Students could use the scholarship to attend any Catholic or other chartered nonpublic school in Ohio.
Students whose family income is less than 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines would qualify for the full scholarship. So would students who are grandfathered into the program by having received an EdChoice, EdChoice Expansion, or Cleveland (CSP) scholarship in the previous school year. Siblings of these current scholarship recipients are grandfathered, as well.
Students with a family income above 200 percent of poverty but less than 400 percent of poverty would qualify for a partial scholarship. The Opportunity Scholarship maxes out at 400 percent of poverty (@$98,000 for a family of four).
The new Opportunity Scholarship would increase scholarship amounts above those in the three existing programs it would replace: EdChoice and EdChoice Expansion, where scholarships cap at $4,650 [K-8] and $6,000 [9-12], and CSP, where scholarships cap at $4,250 [K-8] and $5,700 [9-12].
In addition, the Opportunity Scholarship program offers parents a way to save for their child’s future education expenses. If a Catholic school’s tuition is lower than the Opportunity Scholarship, parents can place leftover scholarship money in an Education Savings Account. This account, held by the state treasurer in the name of the student, would allow a family to save for their child’s later educational expenses, such as K-12 tuition, textbooks, or college tuition and fees at a college within the state of Ohio.
The Opportunity Scholarship addresses several longstanding concerns surrounding Ohio’s present scholarship programs. It is funded directly with dollars from the state budget, in lieu of drawing dollars away public schools through a per-pupil deduction at the district level. It consolidates the Cleveland Scholarship Program, the traditional EdChoice Scholarship Program and the EdChoice Expansion Program into a single income-based scholarship program, and thereby eliminates inconsistencies in scholarship amounts and procedures among these programs.
The Opportunity Scholarship proposal does not impact the two disability scholarship programs in Ohio. The Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program and the Autism Scholarship Program remain as stand alone programs.
Disability scholarship programs are unique in that they are tailored for particularly vulnerable students in need of specific services beyond general education.
If the Ohio Opportunity Scholarship legislation is favorably passed in the 2017 legislative session, the program will be implemented for the 2018-2019 school year.