Published: Monday, August 27, 2007
Voucher program will see changes
The state says 7,600
vouchers have been issued across Ohio for this fall.
By HAROLD GWIN
YOUNGSTOWN There are 11 area public schools on the state voucher list for the 2008-09 school year, compared with 13 for this academic year and more than twice that many private schools willing to take some of their pupils.
The Ohio Department of Education launched its Education Choice Scholarship program (more commonly referred to as the voucher program) last school year, offering up to 14,000 tuition vouchers that children in academically troubled public schools could use to pay their way into private schools.
The latest ODE update shows that 26 private schools in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties have signed up to participate in the program, expressing a willingness to accept pupils bearing vouchers.
Children must meet the private school's enrollment requirements, and those seeking vouchers must apply to and be accepted by a private school first. The accepting school then assists in filing the voucher application.
Vouchers cover the actual cost of tuition or a maximum of $4,250 for kindergarten through the eighth grade and $5,000 for grades nine through 12.
The initial rule was that pupils would be eligible if their home schools ranked in state academic watch or academic emergency for three consecutive years.
The eligibility also applies to charter school pupils who would have been assigned to one of the academically troubled schools by their public school district, if they had remained in the district school system.
Only 3,600 pupils applied for the vouchers last year, prompting the state to liberalize the rules, now requiring schools to be in those two academic categories in only two of the three previous years before pupils can seek vouchers.
The change brought the number of local public schools put into the voucher program to 13 schools for this fall, 2007-08.
They are Berry Middle, Rayen High, Hayes Middle, West Elementary and Wilson High schools and Odyssey: School of Possibilities, all in Youngstown; Horace Mann, Western Reserve Middle, Washington Alternative, East Middle and Turner Middle schools, all in Warren; Blott Elementary in Liberty; and East Liverpool Middle School.
ODE reports that 7,600 vouchers have been awarded across the state for this fall, although cautioning that some of those children might ultimately choose not to accept them.
Once a voucher is granted, the recipient can keep renewing it annually up through the 12th grade, no matter what the pupil's home school does academically, provided the pupil doesn't move to another school district.
Changes for 2008-09
The local list of voucher schools, however, has changed for 2008-09.
For 2008-09, new vouchers will no longer be issued at E.J. Blott; East Liverpool Middle; West, Rayen and Wilson in Youngstown; or Horace Mann, Western Reserve Middle, East Middle and Turner Middle in Warren.
New schools on the list are Westgate Elementary in East Liverpool and Alpha, Athena, East High, Taft, Volney Rogers and Williamson, all in Youngstown.
The voucher application period will run from Feb. 1 through April 18, 2008.
Liberty Local Schools officials in June expressed concern that a loophole in the program could cost the district thousands of dollars.
E.J. Blott had been in academic watch for two years but was moved up to continuous improvement for the 2006 school year.
According to school board member Robert Lackey, at the time E.J. Blott had seen an enrollment increase of 34 pupils since the time the program was announced. Virtually all of those pupils, he said, had transferred from parochial schools.
School officials feel the current program allows private school pupils to transfer into a voucher school for a short time, then transfer back to a private school.