Choice in education benefits the community
Choosing the appropriate type of education and school for our children is a fundamental liberty. In Cleveland Heights and University Heights, options range from public schools to parochial schools, private schools and homeschooling. Unfortunately, for many families, the tuition of parochial and private schools eliminates these options. The time commitment required by parents for homeschooling eliminates that option as well, leaving many families a single alternative—the public system.
There are a variety of reasons parents desire a choice in education: It may be that a child is not thriving at a particular school; a child may be having social problems with a particular group of children; parents may disagree with teachers and/or the curriculum being taught; they may desire a more faith-based approach to learning. It also may be that parents are opposed to the national Common Core Standards now used in the public schools, and are seeking a more creative, locally based approach. Ohio’s EdChoice Program gives families who reside in underperforming districts some alternatives in their choice of schooling.
The EdChoice program works like this: If a child is assigned to attend a local public school that is, for lack of a better term, chronically underperforming, the state provides the resources for that child to go elsewhere. Nothing requires the child to leave, but that is an option. When a child leaves to go to a nonpublic school with an EdChoice Scholarship or to another public school district though “open enrollment,” funding (up to $4,650 for K–8 EdChoice Scholarships and $5,900 for public schools) follows that child to his or her school of choice. The district has combined revenues (per pupil) from federal, state and local sources of approximately $16,500, which is far more than the scholarship amounts, and the difference (more than $10,000) remains with the district. So, EdChoice and other public school choice programs in Ohio allow more local dollars to be left for the remaining students in the district of residence.
Supporting and enabling parents to make informed choices (particularly through data from tests, which all public school students, and nonpublic school students who use a voucher to attend a private school, are required by law to take) is a role that districts are uniquely positioned to fill. Ensuring that parents are aware of the performance of their child’s school is an important piece to improving our schools and allowing all students the opportunity to succeed. Coupling this knowledge with real school choice is a powerful tool for student success.
An opportunity for school choice is particularly important in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights area. For families with school-age children, the public school system is often the determining factor in deciding where to live. Because many suburbs have public schools that are viewed as superior to CH-UH schools, many families choose to leave the Heights in search of another choice. People leave the Heights for other reasons as well, such as lower taxes, city services, or larger properties. Offering them choice in education is an incentive to stay. Fewer residents means less income tax for the community and less property tax revenue to fund the public school system. If more people knew they had options in education they might choose the Heights as a place of residence, and contribute to the income and property tax base, rather than move to places like Solon or Orange.
We should not view EdChoice as a threat to the CH-UH schools, but as a win-win. EdChoice can remove a roadblock for many choosing to raise a family in the Heights, with the net effect of benefiting the entire community.
Kathleen Tark and Yitz Frank
Kathleen Tark, a Cleveland Heights resident since 1996, is an architect and urban designer. Yitz Frank, a resident of University Heights and father of two, is a government relations professional with experience in education policy. The opinion expressed here is that of Tark and Frank, not of any organizations with which either is affiliated.