COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Lawmakers have about one month left to finalize the state’s budget. A large focus of budget discussions these past several months has been education and while lawmakers agree fully and fairly funding public schools is important, there is some back-and-forth about funding universal school choice.
“School choice really is important to a lot of people,” Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said. “Obviously the people who can’t afford to move, don’t have the option of open enrollment.”
Right now, the budget expands choice but does not make it universal. That is something that could change within the next few days when the Senate accepts their sub-bill.
And if the budget passes with universal choice, that means parents would be able to send their kids to any private or charter school on the taxpayer’s dime.
“I’m very concerned about a universal voucher which sounds like the path the president is going down,” Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said.
The implementation of universal choice is estimated to cost the state more than $1 billion.
Back in April when the budget was in the House, House Finance Chairman Representative Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said making school choice universal would “throw the budget out of wack,” but Huffman said they can afford it.
“Ohio is the 13th highest taxed state in the nation, we’re the highest taxed state that’s controlled by the Republican Party in the house, Senate and Governor,” Huffman said. “We have accumulated a huge cash surplus over the past several years.”
Some Democratic lawmakers worry this program would take away from fully funding public schools. Ohio’s public school funding formula was ruled unconstitutional more than a decade ago.
“Vouchers are here to stay in the state of Ohio; however, it should never be at the cost of our public schools and fully funding public schools,” Antonio said. “And making sure that we’re not creating two tiers of education models in the state of Ohio.”
But Huffman said the Senate’s proposed budget will give schools predictability and a clear path and plan.
Huffman said the budget also does innovative things in terms of tax cuts.
“The budget we reveal then would be very difficult for any conservative Republican to vote no on,” Huffman said.
And Huffman said their budget discussions have also kept Senate Democrats in mind,
“One issue was around security and safety grants for churches and schools, especially in high-risk areas,” Antonio said.
Huffman said Senate will likely accept their version of the budget on June 6 and will send it back to the House on or about June 15.
State lawmakers’ deadline to pass it from the statehouse is July 1.