Voucher plan concerns some area officials

NILES – School officials from Trumbull, Mahoning and Ashtabula counties on Friday met with state lawmakers about Gov. John Kasich’s school funding plan and its potential impact on local districts.

Their biggest concern involved HB 59, which proposes to expand the Educational Choice Scholarship Program through two new programs that will increase the number of publicly funded vouchers for students to attend private or parochial schools.

One of the programs provides private or parochial school tuition vouchers to any child entering kindergarten from a family with a household income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, to be used at the parent’s choice of participating private or parochial school; and will offer EdChoice vouchers to students enrolled in schools that fail to meet the Third Grade Reading Guarantee for two successive years.

“State funds are going to charter schools and non-public schools and they don’t have the same requirements as us,” said Austintown Superintendent Vincent Colaluca, who, along with several other school officials, said requirements should be the same for all schools.

“How can you say (students) are not being successful in our schools and then send them somewhere else” where they aren’t held to the same standards, he asked. “Judge us on our jobs evenly.”

Lakeview Board of Education member Donna Zuga also expressed her concern for the new budget.

“It may not be of financial consequence now, but I am very concerned about the future,” she said.

The plan also calls for up to a $91 million in cuts to 55 Educational Service Centers in the state, which provide many services to area schools. It does not, however, cut funding to school districts.

Kasich has said his plan is a “common sense” way to help those who don’t have the resources to help themselves.

State Rep. Ron Gerberry, D-Austintown, said that although there are many things to be concerned about with the new budget, it is not set in stone.

“In two weeks, it will be better than it looks now. This is not a finished product by any stretch,” he said.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni concurred.

“I think that we’re making good progress. If we can get some sensible ideas like we’ve had here today, we can bring them back to Columbus and make some changes,” the Boardman Democrat said.

When the plan was released last month, Barb Mattei-Smith, with the Governor’s Office of 21st Century Learning, said it is meant to address statewide changes.

”What’s important to understand is we’ve had some fundamental shifts in what our state looks like over the course of five years,” she said. “We’ve really tried to focus funding more on a per-pupil basis … that is part of what’s happening here.”