EdChoice math leaves district short on funding

In a recent conversation with a Cleveland Heights friend, he told me that, in his attempts to set the record straight on the website Nextdoor, in regard to the impact that EdChoice vouchers are having on the CH-UH City School District budget, he was being accused of being “anti-Jewish.” I found this odd, owing to what I know of him and what he told me he had been saying. 

Nonetheless, I figured that, as a former CH-UH school board member (2014–2017) as well as someone who is Jewish, I would take a look at the numbers myself and see why his concerns about the impact of EdChoice might be misconstrued.

I went to the Ohio Department of Education’s website for the numbers for FY2020 dated 8/31/2020. This report shows the CH-UH school district losing, to EdChoice vouchers, $7,074,113 in aid it would normally receive from the state. There are 1,404 students attending 33 different private schools. It would appear that all but two [schools] have a religious affiliation, and those two have only 19 of the 1,404 students [attending].

As such, 98.6% of students using EdChoice vouchers are using them to attend private religious schools. Of those students, 276 attend Catholic or Christian schools, and of those 276, 167 attend schools in Cleveland Heights, University Heights or Shaker Heights, with 41 going to St. Ignatius. 

The remaining 78.9% of the students attend [one of] 11 Jewish religious schools, but 4 of these schools only account for 34 students, meaning the 7 remaining schools account for 1,071 students—[comprising] the bulk of not only Jewish school students, but of all students. These 7 schools account for $5,284,629, or 74.7%, of the dollars that the CH-UH district is losing to EdChoice. 

Pointing out the fact that these schools are the principal beneficiaries of EdChoice vouchers is not “anti-Jewish” bias; it is simple math and statement of fact.

While there is ample evidence to undermine the rationale given—that EdChoice is a program to encourage public schools to improve, and is instead a Trojan Horse to undermine public education and send money to religious schools and for-profit charter schools—what we see in this district is that the primary beneficiaries of EdChoice are schools that the students were likely to attend without the existence of the vouchers.

Usage of non-public schools in CH-UH goes back 100 years, and the district is located in what might be the epicenter of private schools in the region, in particular a number of schools that are unique to the state. In 1982 the Wolpert Study examined non-public school usage as well as overall enrollment trends in the CH-UH district, and found that private schools tended to attract students naturally and, as such, were not in competition with the public schools; this continues to be the case 40 years later. 

The fatal flaw in the EdChoice program is that the voucher far exceeds the amount the CH-UH district receives per pupil from the state; so, public school students are, in effect, subsidizing the tuition for students who have never attended, nor were going to attend, the public schools, so they can go to private religious schools. This would be like someone receiving not only an income tax refund, but those earmarked for two or three of their neighbors, as well.

While opponents of the current school levy [ballot issue] say the district should “tighten its belt,” math shows us it has already done this, as the levy doesn’t even cover the cost of monies lost to EdChoice, with the net result being that even with passage of the levy, the district will be “tightening its belt,” with the new revenues only reducing part of the losses.

Eric Silverman

Cleveland Heights resident Eric J. Silverman was a member of the CH-UH Board of Education, 1994–2001 and 2014–17, and a member of Heights Libraries Board of Directors, 2003–09.

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Volume 13, Issue 11, Posted 5:55 PM, 10.12.2020