By Ben Velderman
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio Gov. John Kasich is asking lawmakers to pass a new school voucher plan that would allow a limited number of kindergarteners from low-income families to attend a private school beginning next fall.
Ohio already has three voucher programs, but they are limited to students in persistently failing schools or students with special needs. Kasich’s proposed plan would be Ohio’s first voucher that is based on a family’s income.
Alaska lawmakers are debating a similar income-based voucher plan that has been proposed by state Rep. Wes Keller.
In a statement, Keller said his plan would allow “all students to attend a school that challenges them, regardless of family income,” reports the Associated Press.
State Rep. Lynn Gattis told the AP that the voucher plan would require public, private and charter schools to compete for students, which would inject much-needed “competition into a monopoly.”
Since the state constitution bars private schools from receiving taxpayer dollars, Alaska’s voucher plan faces several major hurdles.
“If it’s ultimately approved by lawmakers, it would go before voters in 2014,” the AP reports. “Any proposed constitutional amendment requires a supermajority – or three-fourths approval – in both the House and the Senate before it can be placed on the ballot during a general election for voters to decide.”
The Ohio voucher plan seems to stand a much better chance of becoming law.
While Kasich’s income-based voucher proposal could theoretically apply to some 800,000 students, it would have a much more limited impact. The governor’s newly proposed two-year budget contains enough money for only 2,000 vouchers next school year and 4,000 vouchers the following year, reports the Columbus Dispatch.
Kasich’s two-year education plan “would provide vouchers to kindergartners from lower-income families statewide starting in the fall, with the program expanding to first-graders the following school year,” the paper reports.
Any family earning up to two hundred percent of the federal poverty level would qualify.
“Nearly 45 percent of all Ohio students fall below that mark,” reports the Columbus Dispatch. “If economic factors remain the same and the program continues to grow to the next grade every year – which is the Kasich administration’s intent, although they won’t be around to see it – by the time this fall’s kindergartners are seniors, roughly 800,000 students will be eligible for vouchers.”
Voucher supporters say the plan is about equality, in that it ensures low-income families have access to high-quality education options.
In addition to Ohio and Alaska, five other states are debating similar voucher plans this legislative session, reports the Associated Press.