Ohio’s Cleveland Scholarship Program was enacted in 1995 and launched in 1996. Through this program, students who reside in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District can receive vouchers to attend neighboring public schools or private schools. Learn more about the program’s eligibility, funding, requirements, regulations, and more on this page.
Parents in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District can receive vouchers to send their children to private school or public schools bordering the school district. No more than half of new recipients may be students previously enrolled in private schools.
The maximum voucher value is $4,650 for grades K–8 and $6,000 for high school. K–8 recipients with a household income no greater than twice the federal poverty level are allowed to use the voucher amount as full tuition payment. Parents whose household income is more than the 200 percent threshold may pay the remaining tuition or provide in-kind services of the remaining tuition. Ohio’s state budget includes $17.6 million in deductions from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District for the program in 2018–19.
Children in grades K–12 who reside in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District are eligible. Priority is given to families with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($50,200 for a family of four in 2018–19). Children from families with incomes above 200 percent of poverty are eligible to receive
vouchers if approved by the Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction. Participating private schools must accept voucher students on a random basis, giving preference to low-income students if they have more applicants than open seats.
Cleveland’s voucher program, one of the oldest in the country, could use some updating. Funding for the program is severely restricted, often times below what a private school typically charges in tuition. Voucher amounts should be closer to what the public school system spends per student ($13,908) and at least should be closer to what the public school district receives in state-only aid ($7,866). Such funding increases would greatly benefit the poorest families and schools who would have struggled to make up the difference in cost. Private school regulations are burdensome, which can lower the number of private schools willing to participate. Mandatory minimum class size requirements, and at the K–3 level, enrollment based on random lottery, income level and previous enrollment are examples of the heavier-handed regulations with which many private schools take issue. Additionally, the school must administer the state test each year and report those data to the state department of education. Such mandates could discourage private schools from participating and create a strong incentive for participating schools to narrow their curriculum and “teach to the test.” Allowing schools to choose from a menu of nationally norm-referenced tests would more appropriately balance accountability and autonomy. A bright spot for the program is that parents above the income threshold are able to participate, albeit at a reduced funding level.
On June 27, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Cleveland school voucher program does not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; that vouchers are constitutional when parents have independent, private choice of schools without favoring or disfavoring religion. By design, the voucher program is “school neutral.” Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002).
The Ohio Supreme Court had previously struck down the Cleveland voucher program, ruling it was unconstitutional because the legislation adopting the voucher program violated the single subject rule. However, the court also held that the voucher program did not violate the state constitution’s compelled support or education clauses and did not violate the Federal constitution’s Establishment Clause. Simmons-Harris v. Goff, 711 N.E.2d 203 (Ohio 1999).
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