‘Backpack Bill,’ universal school choice, returns to Ohio General Assembly

A plan to allow state education dollars to be used by every Ohio parent to pay for private school or other education expenses is back before the General Assembly.

House Bill 11, which had its second hearing in front of the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee on Tuesday, would make all public, nonpublic and homeschool students in grades K-12 eligible for a state scholarship to attend a nonpublic school or be home-schooled.

The scholarships would be funded through an education savings account.

“Parental involvement is one of the most important aspects of a child’s education, regardless of learning environment. This is true for many Ohioans who outsource their responsibility to the local school district because they have no alternative,” said Rep. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky. “At its most basic level, the availability of a Backpack Scholarship will promote more parental involvement by simply providing the opportunity to make educational decisions for their child.”

State funding for public school students taking the scholarship would follow the student to nonpublic schools. Public school districts whose students take the scholarship would lose funding, according to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, a nonpartisan state agency that provides General Assembly with drafting, research, budget and fiscal analysis.

Money, either $5,000 for K-8 students or $7,500 for high school students, could either be paid directly to a school or reimbursed to parents.

Opponents call the plan a $1 billion scam.

“Can Ohio truly afford to spend more than $1 billion a year on private school vouchers at a time when the state is underfunding public schools and local taxpayers are being asked to pony up even more by passing levies?” the group Vouchers Hurt Ohio said in a news release Tuesday. “The answer is no, no, no, but that is not stopping extreme anti-public school lawmakers who are taking their marching orders from out-of-state interests and the Center for Christian Virtue from passing a $1 billion-plus boondoggle.”

The Legislative Service Commission said the bill would cost taxpayers about $1.13 billion in fiscal year 2025 if all newly eligible students took the scholarship.

The fiscal note said for every 1% of newly eligible nonpublic students who do not take the scholarship, the costs would fall by about $11.3 million annually.

As previously reported by The Center Square, McClain introduced the same bill in the last General Assembly nearly two years ago. It failed to pass.

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