EdChoice — a program that allows state money to go to private schools — is on hold due to the pandemic.

“We’re on a pause,” said Jodi Takats, curriculum director for Lake Local Schools after Wednesday’s board of education meeting.

Lake has two schools, the high school and junior high, that would have been in the program this academic year. Bowling Green’s Crim Elementary would have been in EdChoice, joining Kenwood Elementary, which was in it during 2019-20.

“Everything stays as it is,” said Bowling Green City Schools Superintendent Francis Scruci, after Tuesday’s board of education meeting.

Only Kenwood Elementary will be an EdChoice school, since Crim didn’t officially enter the program, he said.

Scruci said he had no idea on how the Ohio Department of Education will rate schools in the program.

“We’re all at the mercy of things we don’t have the answers for right now,” he said.

As part of an omnibus bill approved by the House and Senate in March, the expansion of the EdChoice scholarship program was frozen while the coronavirus causes the need for the redistribution of state dollars, according to the Ohio Capital Journal.

EdChoice was revisited with the release of the State Report Cards this week. The grade cards were limited due to coronavirus, which closed schools in March meaning the spring state testing was never done.

The Third Grade Reading Guarantee was temporarily removed, meaning all third graders advanced, Takats said.

Testing will be worrisome this year, she said. Usually students have a summer slide, where they lose some knowledge during the out-of-school months. This year, there was a spring slide, too, Takats said.

Bowling Green scored 100% and Lake was at 99.2% on Improving At-Risk K-3 Readers, according to Tuesday’s report card. This score looks at how successful schools are at improving reading for at-risk students in grades K-3. This data is partially available this year.

Lake Superintendent Jim Witt said on Wednesday that he and the board of education have repeatedly made their case to change EdChoice.

In February, Witt and a few board members went to Columbus to testify about EdChoice. Bowling Green administrators also went.

In January, the Lake leaders had an hour-long sit-down with Ohio Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, and Ohio Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg. They both said that the House, Senate and governor’s office are in serious talks to walk back EdChoice.

Garavone, in a statement on Thursday, said that COVID-19 has primarily dominated the conversations regarding education for the past six months.

“I have not had any recent conversations with superintendents in my district regarding EdChoice, but I look forward to resuming those discussions in the future as we proceed through, and hopefully soon emerge from, this pandemic,” she said.

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, has said he wants a voucher system that gives options to students from poor families in bad educational situations, but that also doesn’t disrupt public schools.

“We cannot turn our back on kids who are in a difficult situation and whose families do not have the resources that other families have to make choices,” DeWine said. “We want them to be able to make choices, but we also have to protect, preserve our public schools.”

Lake High School and Lake Middle School were designated EdChoice in November, along with Crim Elementary in Bowling Green and Northwood Elementary and Northwood High School. Kenwood had been already designated.

Being named EdChoice means students in those schools can take state money with them and attend private schools.

The Educational Choice Scholarship (EdChoice) Program provides students from under-performing public schools the opportunity to attend participating private schools. Students must first be accepted into the parochial or private school before applying for a scholarship. The annual EdChoice scholarship amount is $4,650 for grades K-8 and $6,000 for grades 9-12 and pays for tuition only.

(The Associated Press and Ohio Capital Journal contributed to this story.)

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