Opinion: Short-term benefit shouldn't outweigh potential harm of Ohio Senate Bill 85
Bad legislation is still bad, even if it might benefit our school district’s short-term bottom line.
Ohio Senate Bill 85 (SB85) was introduced in late March to expand our state’s already bloated voucher system. School vouchers damage the public interest by allocating tax dollars to support families whose children were already slated to go to private or parochial schools. Supposedly, these children are being saved from the so-called “failing” public schools, but most parents of these children never intended to make use of public schools anyway.
In Cleveland Heights-University Heights, the vast majority of families who take advantage of vouchers use them to attend the Hebrew Academy. Almost none of these families probably would be using the CH-UH public schools because of their religious convictions. That is why families choose parochial schools.
When a family in our district uses a voucher, our schools lose a portion of our state financial aid. This year alone, because of state voucher programs and money sucked away from our district for students attending charter schools, CH-UH will lose around $7.6 million of our $18 million in state funding. This loss of funds does not mean we are serving fewer students, it just means we have less money per student.
SB85 [adds] an interesting twist to the voucher schemes. Although the bill dramatically extends eligibility to receive a voucher, there is a provision in the bill that separates out how the money gets paid. Under the provision, school districts would not lose money from their state allocations for vouchers; instead, the state plans to create a completely different funding mechanism. This would probably be a huge benefit for our district.
My guess is that our demographics are unique in the state because we have a high proportion of families living in our district—and always have—who choose to educate their children in non-public institutions. SB85 [would] spread out our misery to the 611 public school districts across the state, some of which lose very little money to such privatization policies.
Though it will probably help our district in the short term, I believe that if SB85 passes it eventually will lead to larger problems than those we face now. Expanding vouchers, however they are funded, will lead even more citizens to believe it is acceptable for state money to be used to fund a parallel religious school system. It is not.
Allowing families with incomes of up to approximately $96,000 (four times the current poverty rate) to send their students to non-public schools using public funds is not acceptable. Public funds should be used for the public good. Expanding vouchers will lead to a smaller pot of money for traditional public schools, which cannot turn away kids who don’t conform to particular behaviors, lack certain academic skills, have special needs that cannot be addressed in a non-public school, or have parents who cannot volunteer nor pay additional school fees required at some schools.
Public schools serve all. All are welcome. Private and parochial schools serve only the interests of a small portion of our citizenry, which is why public funds should not be used to support their missions.
By the time this article is published, we may already know the fate of SB85. Regardless, it poses an interesting dilemma: if we focus only on the short-term financial interests of CH-UH schools, we might lobby our legislature now in a way that could be destructive to our long-term interests.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.