By Gongwer Staff
Posted: March 20, 2023 9:19 AM
New state support for families that educate children at home could become a sticking point in discussions between the chambers on the state's two-year spending outline.
While Gov. Mike DeWine has proposed extending eligibility for income-based EdChoice Scholarships for certain private school students to up to 400% of federal poverty levels, both the House and Senate are reviewing more expansive voucher plans that could end up in the state operating budget (HB 33).
Under SB 11, all K-8 students would be eligible for an award of up to $5,500 per year to put toward tuition at a chartered private school, while all high school students would be eligible for an award of up to $7,500. Home schoolers would not be in line for vouchers under the proposal, but such families would qualify for an expanded tax credit of up to $2,000 annually for educational expenses.
Under HB 11, the award amounts would be the same ($5,500 for K-8, $7,500 for 9-12), but they would be deposited into educational savings accounts that could be used to fund home schooling or tuition at chartered and nonchartered private schools.
Although Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) has identified HB11 as a priority bill, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) appears skeptical of funding private school voucher recipients and home schoolers at the same level.
Sen. Huffman said the costs associated with home education are difficult to compare with other forms of instruction.
"The big cost, of course, is the building and the staff, which you don't have for home schoolers," he said.
Sen. Huffman, who noted the state provided a $250 tax credit for home-schooling families in the prior budget, said he would need to see cost-related evidence to justify adding them to the state's school choice voucher programs.
The possibility of broadening the governor's voucher expansion proposal has been a major topic of conversation in the House Finance Subcommittee on Primary & Secondary Education.
Chair Rep. Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville) has said there is "an interest" in home school students being included in EdChoice and previously sought information from the Department of Education on the potential cost.
Aaron Rausch, budget chief for the agency, said while more than 47,000 children in the state were home-schooled during the previous academic year, uptake of vouchers likely would hinge on parameters put in place by the General Assembly.
"The cost of allowing a home-educated student access to a scholarship or funding would in part depend on what the specific requirements are," he said.
The cost to the state would be about $290 million if home-school enrollment stayed steady and all 14,613 high school students and all 32,878 K-8 students applied for vouchers.
The Legislative Service Commission has projected the full cost of implementing HB11 at upwards of $1.1 billion per year if all eligible students in private and home-school settings apply, but both LSC, the measure's sponsors and proponents have pointed to full adoption as an unlikely scenario.
LSC has projected that the less-expansive SB11 could increase state voucher spending by up to $528 million annually.
Troy McIntosh, executive director of the Ohio Christian Education Network and a proponent of HB11, said he believes many home-schooling families and nonchartered private schools would turn down voucher funding.
"Some of them will just never take the scholarship because they don't want state money," he said. "They view anything that might look like the state has authority to govern what they do – they don't want any part of it."
That attitude was apparent after the state enacted the home-schooling tax credit.
Ohio Homeschooling Parents, a nonprofit that offers resources for home educators in the state, advised against taking the credit in a 2022 blog post, arguing it could lead to enhanced scrutiny from tax officials and pushback from public school backers.
"Until the elderly and the childless ALSO get a tax credit for schools they aren't using, it puts a target on the back of homeschoolers. It makes us the political scapegoat for their funding ills," the post states.
OHP also raised concerns about a prior version of HB11 (HB290, 134th General Assembly), arguing that as the number of home-schooling households that took state funding grew, it would become easier for a future state government to impose standardized requirements on the educational sector.
Democrats on the House Finance Committee and its K-12 subcommittee have argued more state oversight is necessary if the state expands voucher programs to include nonchartered schools and home education, especially in the wake of national reports that an Upper Sandusky couple are leading a neo-Nazi home-schooling network. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, January 30, 2023)
Rep. Marilyn John (R-Shelby), who is sponsoring HB11 with Rep. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky), said while the views of the "Dissident Homeschool" group are abhorrent, they are far from representative of the state's home-school community.
"I also don't think that we should be making public policy based on one incident," she said.
Rep. McClain also has said it is not his intent to add new regulations to the home-schooling and nonchartered private school sectors in exchange for voucher funding, with the exception of some testing requirements for the latter group.
"In terms of broad, additional regulation, I don't think that we're looking for that," he said. "People choose those environments for those reasons in many cases."
Rep. Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati), the ranking member of the House K-12 budget subcommittee, questioned whether those arguing in favor of voucher expansion are more focused on an ideological project than academic outcomes.
"My concern is that the advocacy here is more about educational freedom and less about helping kids read the words educational freedom," Rep. Isaacsohn said.