Ep. 280: The Ohio Survey with Yitz Frank

November 8, 2021

In this episode we hear from Chairman of the Board of School Choice Ohio Yitz Frank and the results of their recent survey they conducted of Ohio families on their schooling experiences.

Jason Bedrick: Hello and welcome back to EdChoice Chats. I’m your host Jason Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice. And today we’ll be discussing the results of our recent survey of Ohio families about their schooling experiences. I’m joined today by one of the authors of that study my EdChoice colleague Drew Catt, the director of state research and special projects here at EdChoice, as well as by Yitz Frank, who is the chairman of the board of School Choice Ohio. Gentlemen, welcome back to the podcast.

Drew Catt: Always a pleasure Jason.

Yitz Frank: Jason, thanks for having me

Jason Bedrick: Before we get to the survey results, Yitz, we’ll start with you. Perhaps you could just set the stage by providing some local context, right? What kind of school choice options are available in Ohio?

Yitz Frank: Yeah, so Ohio has long been a leader in providing school choice options for families. We have the largest number of students in the country using a voucher program to attend the private school of their choice and we have five different scholarship programs that allow families to access taxpayer dollars to choose their school instead of going to their assigned public school.

And in the most recent state budget we were able to improve some of those programs, make sure that more families were able to access them, make sure that more private schools were willing to participate and open their doors for these families, and also create a new tax credit scholarship program, which will also increase choices. And we have a new $500 per student ACE program that allows families to access and pay for things like tutoring, private school tuition, all kinds of extracurricular services that they need that they weren’t receiving beforehand. And we were able to use some of the federal COVID relief dollars to help those families too. So we have a really strong basis here, a strong history of school choice and no doubt more room to grow, but that’s sort of the lay of the land right here as we speak.

Jason Bedrick: So Drew, as Yitz covered, Ohio has lots of different school choice programs. How satisfied are parents with those programs?

Drew Catt: Yeah, that’s a great question Jason. For the purposes of our survey, just due to the sample size limitations, we mostly focused on the Statewide Voucher Program or The Educational Choice Scholarship Program. Overall, parents were overwhelmingly satisfied with both Statewide Voucher Program and The Cleveland Scholarship Program, we had about 76 respondents there we were able to report out. We did also report out for The Autism Scholarship Program and John Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program, even though those have a lower sample size. I did include those on that specific chart, kind of just to highlight how satisfied parents are with the programs to date in the state of Ohio.

Jason Bedrick: Great and how satisfied were they with their chosen schools?

Drew Catt: Yeah, so when it came to overall parent reports of satisfaction, we found that parents overwhelmingly across the entire state are very satisfied or completely satisfied with their child’s school. However, we also asked the voucher program families that replied how their satisfaction compared to the school that their child was in prior to the program. And with that, it was, again, overwhelmingly more than half of The Statewide Voucher Program parents that responded were much more or somewhat more satisfied in about half of The Cleveland Scholarship Program as well with a fairly large proportion that were kind of neutral and usually about little over one in 10, the parents said that they were less satisfied of any way.

Jason Bedrick: All right. So parents are overwhelmingly not only satisfied with the program itself but also with the schools that they choose and much more satisfied with their current chosen school than the school that their child had been enrolled in previously. But what can the survey tell us about what parents are looking for when they’re deciding to choose a school?

Drew Catt: Yeah, this is a great question. So we start out by asking parents, hey, here are all these things, all these, I guess, decision making criteria areas and just check all off that apply. And then we follow that up with what was the most influential factor when choosing a school. And honestly, some of these results I’ve done enough of these in enough states. I know also based on our polling that we do that safe environment is typically number one among the homeschooling population and that is definitely what happened here in Ohio. The big standout though, was academics being the top choosing factor for educational choice scholarship program parents. Typically, that is something that I would expect a kind of fee paying private school advantage or a community school/charter school advantage, but it was The Statewide Voucher parents that overwhelmingly said academics was an influential factor followed closely by The Cleveland Scholarship Program parents.

Jason Bedrick: And of course this is consistent with many of the previous surveys that we’ve done and we just know that there’s a wide variety of things that parents are looking for. And these are all legitimate desires that one would want out of a school. But another thing that School Choice does is, is often it not only allows families to choose the school that reflects their values or provides higher quality academics or whatever it is that families are looking for. Whereas you mentioned, it just provides a safer environment. We also find that it can change parents’ behavior and change how parents relate to the school. So what does the survey have to say about changes in parental behavior once they enter into the School Choice program?

Drew Catt: Yeah, that’s another great question, Jason. So over half of the statewide voucher parents said that they do such things at a higher rate than their previous schools, such as like reading with their kid, using online educational resources with their student, even participating in school activities, and volunteering at their child’s school, and participating in community service activities. And we saw about half of The Cleveland Scholarship Program parents say the same. And really the thing that stood out to me the most was when it came to the participating in community service activities and the volunteering in their community to show that really School Choice for these Ohio families isn’t just impacting their education, but it’s impacting how they are navigating their community and how they’re giving back to their local communities.

Jason Bedrick: So Yitz is there anything in the survey that can help us improve these school choice programs?

Yitz Frank: Oh yeah, there’s a lot to take away and probably a lot of a few areas that are worth continuing to study. Even that one statistic that Drew just mentioned about three quarters of educational choice scholarship program parents increased their parental involvement at home. I mean, that’s an amazing statistic where just the fact that parents feel that they’re able to choose a different environment for their child causes them to get more involved. That’s probably an area that we should continue to study more of because that has obviously significant implications far beyond the child’s academic career.

And you see some of that might be also reflected in one of the other questions you asked that, by and large, it looked like we surveyed students in traditional public schools and all kinds of other segments of the educational system. And for the most part a lot of parents that are sending their kids in traditional public schools felt pretty similarly in terms of what makes them proud to be part of the program or school and a lot of other areas. And that’s pretty consistent with what we find which is that most people like their local public school, right?

And so what School Choice does is it enables everyone to choose the best environment for them and most people will continue to stay in their public school and be satisfied there. One of the big differences though that I saw in this survey was, and I think this is sort of playing out around the country, that parents that chose the educational choice scholarship to access a different school for their kids, increased their confidence in their ability to choose what’s best for their child, and that goes way beyond academics.

Now, that being said, one of the other things that the survey found was that two out of five traditional public and community school parents, which by the way, community schools is another term for charter schools, that’s what we call them in Ohio. Two out five of them never heard of our voucher programs in Ohio. And obviously for a state that prides itself in expanding School Choice, that’s something that we really need to pay attention to. And we know I think even just this Friday AFC put out a new poll from Echelon that says, 72% of the public and 78% of parents support the idea that K-12 parents should have the most or at least some influence over what schools teach.

Well, we have these programs in Ohio. We need to make sure that parents know about them and so we all need to do a better job of that. I mean, School Choice Ohio every year, at least for the past several years, we do a very significant marketing effort to make sure all low income families and other families around the state know about these programs and know how to access them and are able to gain admission to private school. And we spend a significant amount of resources on that and we may need to do more of that.

Jason Bedrick: We may have to, so what do you think is next for School Choice in Ohio?

Yitz Frank: Well, we are able to accomplish a lot of things, thanks to the leadership of a lot of our elected officials in the state legislature, but we’ve got more to do. We have an income based scholarship program that allows families at 250% of the federal poverty level to gain access to our choice programs, but that’s not enough. If you’re a cop and your wife or your husband’s a teacher you can’t afford to send your kids to a private school, but you’re not poor. And we need a look at ways to increase options for every family regardless of where they live and regardless of their income. And so we’re going to look over the next year, certainly. And certainly over the next couple years, as we look at education funding and set the state budget at ways to increase those options. I mean, I think that and my guess is you Jason and Drew. I believe that everybody in the state should be able to choose whatever school they want.

Now we know most people will not do that. Most people are really happy with where they are and most people do choose by buying a house in the school district that they desire, but not everyone can do that. So expanding School Choice will help combat some of the sort of segregation you see that’s created by school district lines that based on your ability to afford a house, really determines the quality of the public school you go to. And we’d like to enact legislation that allows you to go to whichever school fits you no matter where you live or no matter how much money you make.

Jason Bedrick: Well, we’re certainly not going to argue with that. Thank you so much Yitz for joining the podcast and Drew always for coming on. The name of the report is Family Schooling Experiences in Ohio. It’s released in October 2021 joint project by EdChoice and School Choice Ohio. My guests today have been Drew Catt, director of state research special projects at EdChoice and Yitz Frank chairman of the board of School Choice Ohio. Thank you both for joining us.

Yitz Frank: Thank you, Jason.

Drew Catt: Thanks you all.