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Backer of Ohio bill to expand private school vouchers says it won't cost $1 billion as estimated

Students hold their backpacks supporting school choice legislation.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Students hold their backpacks supporting school choice legislation.

Backers of an Ohio bill that would give most students in private schools a public voucher are taking issue with numbers that show the program would be expensive and take money away from public schools.

The “Backpack Bill” would allow K-12 students who go to private schools to use a public stipend of up to $7500 to do so.The Legislative Service Commission (LSC), a non-partisan agency that examines impact of legislation estimates the backpack bill, recently released a fiscal noteshowing it could cost around $1 billion a year. The estimate assumed all students already paying for private schools, for nonchartered nonpublic schools and those being homeschooled would ask for vouchers.

But one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky), disputed that figure.

“The number is an unrealistic expectation," McClain said.

McClain said it’s not possible that 100% of the 185,400 kids who could participate in the program will. He said he's talked to parents who would not accept the state voucher. And he said analysis of a similar program in other states show this program would cost much less than the LSC estimate, even when taking start-up costs into consideration.

"Looking at that expectation, you are looking at an additional $113 million dollars for this program in year one," McClain said.

But opponents of the bill who are suing the state over vouchers contend the price tag is high enough that it could end up with local taxpayers being asked to pass more levies to make up for the money they could lose as a result of this legislation.

Bill Phillis with the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding has called the program a "scheme" for parents who already enrolled their children in private schools and never had any intention of enrolling in public schools. And he said there is already too little oversight over home schools and charter schools now, pointing to the failed Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) charter schoolas an example.

The "Backpack Bill" was proposed in 2021. And even though it had support from the influential Center for Christian Virtue, it only got one hearing. There was never a fiscal analysis done of the proposal.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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