Ohio enacted and launched its Income-Based Scholarship Program in 2013. It offers private school vouchers to students from low- and lower middle-income households. Continue reading to learn more about this program’s funding, eligibility, regulations, governing statutes, and more.
Income-qualified students in grades K–4 are eligible for vouchers to attend private schools, provided they are not eligible for Ohio’s other voucher programs. Fifth graders will be eligible starting in the 2018–19 school year.
Vouchers are worth up to $4,650, not to exceed the private school’s actual tuition and fees. Families may receive 75 percent ($3,487.50) and 50 percent ($2,325) vouchers if they are renewing their child’s Income-Based Scholarship and earn up to 300 percent and 400 percent, respectively, of the federal poverty level.
In the 2017–18 school year, students are eligible if they are incoming, first-time students in grades K–4 from families with income no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($49,200 for a family of four in 2017–18). Those at or below this income level are eligible for maximum vouchers ($4,650) when they first apply and renew their vouchers. Fifth graders will be eligible starting in the 2018–19 school year. Only students from low-income families who do not qualify for the “EdChoice” Scholarship Program are eligible.
Those who renew their Income-Based Scholarship may earn between 200 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($73,800 for a family of four in 2017–18) to receive a voucher worth $3,487.50. Those who renew their scholarship may earn between 300 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($98,400 for a family of four in 2017–18) to receive a voucher worth $2,325.
If there are more applications than available vouchers, priority will be given first to students who received vouchers in the previous year, second to students from families with incomes at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level ($24,600 for a family of four in 2017–18) and third to students from families with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Once they receive a voucher, a student is eligible in future years, unless their family income exceeds 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
The enrollment cap in Ohio’s Income-Based Scholarship Program is one area in which this program has improved. It was arbitrarily limited to 2,000 full vouchers to kindergartners for the first year, but now, the number of scholarships will be limited only by the total appropriation for the program. The income thresholds for families in the program allow for job growth and additional income, a model other states could follow. The program also mandates the state test, which 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. Because Ohio has five school choice programs, it could seek to streamline each of those under the original “EdChoice” voucher program by raising and restructuring the eligibility caps and sun-setting the other programs. This would lower administrative costs for the state, could expand eligibility and would help increase parent understanding of educational choice, which would likely boost participation.
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.