Westerville City Schools Superintendent John Kellogg and Nicole Marshall, the district's treasurer-chief financial officer, will speak at a public-information session Monday, Jan. 6, on what they say are the negative local impact of upcoming expansion to Ohio's Educational Choice (EdChoice) Scholarship program.

CORRECTION: The public-information session will begin at 6:30 p.m. Because of incorrect information sent to ThisWeek in a news release, an earlier version of this story gave an incorrect start time for the meeting.

Westerville City Schools Superintendent John Kellogg and Nicole Marshall, the district’s treasurer-chief financial officer, will speak at a public-information session Monday, Jan. 6, on what they say are the negative local impact of upcoming expansion to Ohio’s Educational Choice (EdChoice) Scholarship program.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district’s Early Learning Center, 936 Eastwind Drive.

The state has been offering vouchers to families in poorly performing public school districts so students could attend other schools. But the state legislature recently expanded the list of districts with “under-performing” schools from 40 in fall 2018 to 139 in 2019 and about 400 – nearly two-thirds of all districts in the state – by 2020.

The EdChoice program deducts local tax money from public schools and diverts it to pay for the private education of children who reside within designated public schools’ attendance areas but attend a participating private school.

“It (expansion of EdChoice) has significant implications because of not just what it is but (also) how it came to be,” Kellogg said. “This change will essentially siphon off local property-tax dollars to private and parochial schools for tuition and was done in a way that wasn’t very transparent and not very fair.

“A year and a half ago, out of slightly more than 600 public school systems in Ohio, only 30 of them had at least one school eligible for EdChoice vouchers,” Kellogg said. “Today, thanks to this change, more than 400 districts have schools designated for EdChoice.”

Marshall said the negative financial impact of what legislators have approved would be significant to public school systems across the state because locally voted tax dollars would be used to fund the EdChoice expansion.

“In the state’s latest budget, legislators essentially froze the revenue they provide to public school districts while at the same time approved the siphoning of local revenue away from them through the EdChoice voucher expansion,” Marshall said. “The General Assembly added these last-minute amendments to expand vouchers with no testimony, no prior notice and little explanation. Their actions have placed many school districts on the brink of financial emergency and uncertainty.”

Researchers have conducted 52 analyses on the fiscal effects of private school-choice programs, according to edchoice.org. Forty-seven found these programs generated overall fiscal savings for taxpayers; four found programs were cost-neutral; and one found a Louisiana program for students with exceptional special needs generated net costs.

What each analysis has found is that public schools have some fixed costs, but most of their costs are variable, meaning costs are reduced when students leave the same way costs increase when new students enroll, according to the website.

"In our opinion, when a student leaves a school -- regardless of type -- the school should no longer have to pay to educate that student," the EdChoice website states. "When any school gains or loses students, it must adjust accordingly. ...

"The biggest question policymakers have to answer when it comes to K–12 funding is whether the money set aside to educate children should follow them to the people and places that educate them—whether that’s in their district, outside their district, in a private setting, online or at home. We believe it should."

The Columbus Dispatch reporter Anna Staver contributed to this story.

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