Liberty, Boardman schools under pressure if state voucher program doesn’t change

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Without change, a large number of public school systems will have to pay to send students to private schools

(WKBN) – If the Ohio legislature doesn’t change the school voucher program by Saturday, a large number of additional public school systems throughout Ohio will have to pay to send students to private schools.

Tuesday night, the Ohio Senate approved a bill removing schools in districts with overall grades of A, B, C and some of the Ds from the voucher list.

But then Wednesday morning, the House unanimously rejected the Senate’s plan and the issue is now in a House-Senate conference committee.

Two of the local school districts affected by the changes in the voucher program would be Liberty and Boardman.

In Liberty, it could have serious consequences.

Teachers in Liberty met after school on Wednesday to discuss ways to improve math education. But if Ohio’s voucher program remains as is, there will be no improvements in anything.

“I think it’s going to be the tip of the iceberg and we’re right back into fiscal emergency,” said Liberty Superintendent Joe Nohra.

On its latest report card, Liberty High School had an overall grade of D.

Under the Ohio Senate plan, Liberty may still be required to pay for vouchers for students wishing to attend private schools, something Nohra said is not right.

“So all of a sudden we have to say to our kids and to our families, ‘We have less money to support you because we have to send it somewhere else,'” he said.

“With the recent changes we saw come out of the Senate last night, that gets Boardman off the list,” said Boardman Superintendent Tim Saxton.

Saxton said if Boardman High and Center Intermediate schools remain on the voucher list, it’ll cost Boardman Schools between $500,000 and $900,000 next year.

“Boardman Schools are not a failing school, they’re not failing schools. We have As, Bs and Cs on our report card. That’s not failing,” Saxton said.

During Tuesday night’s debate in the Senate, it was pointed out that the number of schools eligible for vouchers has risen from 255 in 2018 to 517 last year and 1,227 this year — an increase of 480% in three years.

“Our schools are not underperforming at that level, are not failing at that level. What happened is our metric system was wrong,” said Sen. Matt Dolan at the debate.

The vote in the Senate was 26 to 7, with Mike Rulli voting ‘yes’ and all seven ‘no’ votes coming from Democrats including Sean O’Brien.

At the debate, Teresa Fedor, of Toledo, spoke for the Democrats.

“Tell me, when did Ohio taxpayers who already foot the bill for public schools that educate 90% of our students, agree to subsidize private school students?” she said.

The plan passed by the Senate would also eliminate academic distress commissions in districts with an overall grade of D. That means Lorain would be released but not Youngstown or East Cleveland.

State Representative Michele Lepore-Hagan wants all three schools released and said it should be part of anything that’s passed.

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