Ohio_Statehouse_columbusColumbus, OH – Ohio’s low-income kindergartners will be eligible for school vouchers this fall, following Gov. John Kasich’s signing of the state’s 2013-14 budget, a move he is expected to make possibly as soon as today. Yesterday both chambers of the Ohio Legislature approved the budget containing the voucher expansion, which, over time, makes all low-income students eligible.

Once limited just to low-income children in Cleveland, private school choice now will be available statewide to kindergartners whose family income does not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or $46,100 for a family of four. The program will add one grade level of eligibility each year over the next 12 years.

Notably, lawmakers passed the eligibility increase on the 11-year anniversary of the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris ruling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Cleveland’s school vouchers under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

“This expansion no doubt will be a lifeline to many Ohio families,” said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “As more Ohioans get to realize the benefits of school choice, we hope that will encourage even greater growth toward making all families eligible.”

Vouchers will be worth up to $4,250, which participating private schools will have to accept as payment in full. Because the number of vouchers is capped at 2,000 per grade per year, a lottery will be held if there are more applicants than vouchers available. Vouchers will be awarded first to previous scholarship recipients, then to students at or below 100 percent of the poverty rate, followed by those at 200 percent of the poverty line.

“This new program will allow parents who do not have the means to move to a better school district or to send their children to a private school the opportunity to give their children an education that best fits their learning needs,” Matt Cox, president of School Choice Ohio, said. “School Choice Ohio joins families across the state in thanking Gov. Kasich and legislative leadership for their commitment to making an income-based school voucher program a reality.”

Once eligible students receive a voucher their family income can rise above the 200 percent threshold; however, vouchers will drop to $3,187 when family income is between 200 percent to 300 percent of poverty, and $2,125 when their income falls within 300 percent to 400 percent. A student will lose eligibility if his or her parents’ income exceeds 400 percent of poverty.

“For school choice to work, parents need ample buying power and schools need the freedom to operate,” Enlow said. “As this program grows, we’ll continue to work with Ohio leaders on what reasonable, parent-driven accountability measures look like.”

For a detailed look at Ohio’s current voucher programs for students with autism and special needs, children in underperforming public schools, and underserved students in Cleveland, visit edchoice.org/ABCs.

Photo credit: Alexander Smith via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 3.0)

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