School choice vouchers expand - Lima, OH News Weather Sports

School choice vouchers expand

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Ohio's two year budget bill was recently passed by the state legislature and signed by the state's governor.  The massive 3,747 page document is called a budget bill, but it includes regulations ranging  from speed limit changes to license plate options.

About 100 pages of the bill outline changes concerning the Department of Education.  One part that could effect students in our area is school choice.  

Two thousand new scholarships outlined in the bill will pay for the private school tuition for kindergarten students during the 2013-2014 school year.  St. Gerard's school in Lima is already helping families apply.  

"It's a great opportunity for our parishioners," said Fr. Jim Szobonya, principal at St. Gerard.

To qualify a family must have an income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline.  Ed choice scholarships are already available for students who live in underperforming districts.  However, these new scholarships will be for families in any school district.

Lima city schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman says if the state is going to provide the funding,  private schools need to face the same mandates as public schools.  

"The evaluation systems.  The third grade reading mandate.  All the mandates that are constantly streaming down into the public education world need to apply to the non-publics as much as they do for us," said Ackerman.

But Fr. Szobonya says in his opinion the scholarship program is about fairness in a different area.  

"Our families pay high real estate taxes and all the money goes to public school, and if they choose to go to a private school they have to pay like a second tuition," said Fr. Szobonya.

Ackerman says there might be a positive for public schools. She says this money could prevent families from what she calls gaming the system.

"Parents are taking the kids from the parochial schools and plopping them into a public school in April so they can become eligible for a voucher.  That's disruptive to our classes.  It's disruptive to their own children," said Ackerman.

The scholarships are good for just kindergarten students this coming year.  However, next year the scholarships will expand to kindergarten and first grade students. They will continue to build from there.


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