Bowling Green City Schools is opposing a state bill that would allow all Ohio students to be eligible for a taxpayer-funded scholarship that goes wherever they go.

House Bill 290, known as the Backpack Scholarship Program, was introduced in May by Republicans Riordan McClain, Upper Sandusky, and Marilyn John, Shelby. It has been referred to the House finance committee.

If passed, it would start in the 2023-24 school year and permit students to enroll in the non-public school that they and their parents determine is the best fit for them.

Students will be able to choose from any participating non-public district.

“It is called this because students can take a voucher amount with them to any private school that accepts vouchers,” said board member Ginny Stewart. “These are dollars that are taken away from public schools.”

Stewart introduced the resolution that opposes the bill at Tuesday’s school board meeting. It passed by a unanimous vote.

“We have to protect the interests of public schools and public education,” said Superintendent Francis Scruci after the school board voted unanimously to support the resolution. “That Backpack Bill is weakening the public school sector.”

Stewart said students in grades K-8 will get $5,500 and students in grades 9-12 will get $7,500 to help pay for a non-public education.

Bowling Green leaders believe the bill would divert public tax dollars away from public schools to charter schools as well as private schools, which are not accountable to the taxpayer of Ohio, according to the resolution.

These are tax dollars that taxpayers have voted to go to the single use of public education, Stewart said.

The Ohio Education Association has published a comparison between public schools and private schools report cards, she said.

Data does not support the belief that private schools outperform their public counterparts, Stewart said, adding charter and private schools in Ohio are not subject to the laws governing education standards and teacher qualifications among in public schools.

The resolution also claims the bill would provide a subsidy for parents whose children are already enrolled in private school.

The resolution states that directly funding students does not constitute the funding of a system of schools as required by the Ohio Constitution.

According to its website, the Backpack Bill ties state resources to the student so that Ohio funds students and teachers, instead of buildings and bureaucrats.

“Every child is unique, and families should be empowered to choose the best educational setting to meet their child’s needs. At the same time, the Backpack Bill ensures that Ohio maintains strong funding for community and public schools,” according to the webpage.

Even with the loss of students, the district will not see any savings at it will have the same number of staff, buildings and infrastructure costs, Stewart said.

Because nearly all Ohio districts receive less state funds per pupil than their per pupil deductions for charter students, public schools must effectively divert local tax dollars that have been approved by local taxpayers for a particular purpose for school operations. Universal vouchers would only exacerbate this inequity by also diverting local tax dollars to private schools, the resolution stated.

The General Assembly should focus on providing the fundamental right of every child to have a high-quality public education, according to the resolution.

“There’s a lot of truth in what you just said,” board member Ryan Myers said to Stewart. “It’s been a battle for a long time.”

The resolution will be sent to Ohio Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, and Ohio Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, as well as all other legislators in the state.

“We can make a difference. There is power in numbers,” Stewart said.

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