This opinion piece first appeared in The news from Lima.
School closures related to COVID-19 have disrupted learning and slowed academic progress for students in Ohio. Early studies are already warning that many students could be up to a full school year behind what they would otherwise be without a break, and the lost year has the potential to significantly reduce lifetime earnings. But the crisis could have been worse.
Fortunately, the Ohio General Assembly recently took several bold legislative steps to limit the damage.
Last month, for example, the Ohio Senate corrected fundamental inequities in current school choice programs and cut red tape on a new program focused on closing learning gaps. Under the leadership of Chairman Matt Huffman, R-Lima, the Senate corrected a longstanding problem with Ed Choice Scholarships, Ohio’s income-based voucher program.
Previously, low-income students could see pro-rated losses of their vouchers if their parents scraped together a few extra dollars and their family income exceeded 250% of federal poverty guidelines — and their siblings would not be eligible for their own income-based vouchers. The recent Senate legislative effort put an end to these misguided policies by eliminating any prorated vouchers and specifying that sibling students would mostly be eligible for vouchers, even if family income increased slightly.
By addressing these issues, the Senate has also ensured that thousands of eligible Ohio students retain access to the new Buckeye Institute-inspired after-school child enrichment program. Without a change in the law, the Ohio Department of Education would have recovered any Ohio ACE money credited to a new account for the 2021 school year but not spent by the end of June 2022. The Senate ruled led efforts to keep that money available until it was eligible. students graduating from high school.
These corrections earned the Ohio Senate high marks on its report card before the summer break. But more work awaits the General Assembly when it returns this fall.
The legislature is expected to increase Ohio ACE eligibility from 300% of the federal poverty guidelines to 400% and increase the amount placed in family accounts from $500 to $1,000. The first increase will make more students eligible for the program, and the second will help families afford additional learning services and educational resources. And then heads of state should further reduce the red tape that unnecessarily slows down and complicates the ACE application process.
Additionally, the General Assembly should adopt a #StudentsFirst approach to education reform and convert Ed Choice scholarships into broader college savings accounts. Such accounts would maximize flexibility and allow families to bridge learning gaps related to COVID-19 with the educational services their children need.
Finally, Ohio should increase the current $750 dollar-for-dollar tax credit for organizations that provide scholarships to $2,500. This will further incentivize private philanthropic groups trying to help low-income students access more educational options and opportunities.
President Huffman and the Ohio Senate helped keep a bad situation from getting worse. And for that, Ohio families should be grateful. But more education reforms will be needed to help students recoup some of their learning losses and recover from the great disruption of COVID. The Senate, it seems, is up to the challenge.
Greg R. Lawson is a researcher at the Buckeye Institute. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.