COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Forty-one urban school districts in Ohio are urging state lawmakers to pump the brakes on expanding school choice vouchers until the state’s public schools are fully funded.

Earlier this month, the group of districts, including Columbus City Schools, wrote a letter to the General Assembly asking its members to prioritize its funding plan for Ohio’s public school system – which the state Supreme Court has twice ruled unconstitutional – as they finalize the state’s biennial budget by the June 30 deadline.

The districts’ letter comes as lawmakers consider several proposals to expand the number of students eligible to receive state-funded scholarships, most commonly through the EdChoice Scholarship Program, to cover the costs of private school tuition.

As it stands, EdChoice vouchers are awarded to families earning 250% of the federal poverty level. Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed budget would raise that threshold to 400% of the poverty line, which, for a family of four, amounts to $120,000 a year.

The Ohio House took a step further, suggesting eligibility be expanded to 450% of the federal poverty line – a move that the 41 school districts said would include nearly every student in the state “at a significant cost.”

“There is ample empirical evidence to prove that the way to address the poverty achievement gap is robustly funding public schools to institute best practices: early childhood education; a well-rounded school experience including culture, sports, and the arts; the extra-curricular activities that give students a sense of purpose; community-minded and community-building schools; and cooperative learning,” the letter read. “As a state we must prioritize the places where this is happening – the public schools.”

While lawmakers consider expanding EdChoice, both during budget negotiations and in separate pieces of legislation, they are also phasing in the six-year implementation of the Fair School Funding Plan to address inequities within the state’s public schools.

The group of districts also pushed lawmakers to hold private schools receiving EdChoice dollars accountable for how those funds are spent. Unlike Ohio’s public schools, private schools can choose whether to accept or reject students, the districts said.

“There is often talk of competition being good, but that only works if we are competing on a level playing field. In some school districts, non-public schools are receiving more state funding per student via vouchers than the public school is receiving from the state’s share of funding,” the letter read. “If that scale has tipped, shouldn’t accountability follow?”

Meanwhile, hundreds of students attended a rally at the Statehouse on Wednesday to show their support for expanding school vouchers. “We want to make sure every child can go to the school of their choice,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said.

The EdChoice program is facing a legal challenge itself. In December, a Franklin County judge allowed a lawsuit challenging the program’s constitutionality to proceed.

The school districts who signed the letter addressed to lawmakers include:

  • Akron Public Schools
  • Canton City Schools
  • Cincinnati Public Schools
  • Cleveland Metropolitan School District
  • Columbus City Schools
  • Dayton Public Schools
  • Toledo Public Schools
  • Youngstown Public Schools
  • Alliance City Schools
  • Barberton City Schools
  • Finneytown Local School District 
  • Huber Heights City Schools
  • Lima City Schools
  • Lorain City Schools
  • Mansfield City Schools
  • Maple Heights City Schools
  • Marion City Schools
  • Mt. Healthy City Schools
  • North College Hill Schools
  • Oberlin City Schools
  • Painesville City Schools
  • Richmond Heights Local Schools
  • Sandusky City Schools
  • South Euclid Lyndhurst City Schools
  • Tiffin City Schools
  • Trotwood Madison City Schools
  • Warren City Schools
  • Warrensville Heights City Schools 
  • Bedford City Schools
  • Berea City Schools
  • Brooklyn City Schools
  • Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools
  • Cuyahoga Heights Local Schools
  • East Cleveland City Schools
  • Euclid City Schools
  • Fairview Park City Schools
  • Garfield Heights City Schools
  • Lakewood City Schools
  • Maple Heights City Schools
  • Parma City Schools
  • Shaker Heights City Schools