‘Backpack Bill’ would offer school-choice scholarships to all Ohio students

Ohio school-choice advocates are applauding a bill introduced in the Ohio House they say empowers families to choose the best education options for their children.

The “Backpack Bill” became part of the debate on a proposed new education funding formula and would ensure each child in Ohio would be eligible for a scholarship to attend the K-12 school or their choice.

“Ohio lawmakers should be focusing on funding teachers and students, not buildings and bureaucrats,” said Aaron Baer, president for the Center of Christian Virtue, formerly known as Citizens for Community Values. “The Backpack Bill will ensure every Ohio student is able to access the education that best meets his or her needs.”

The legislative intent bill, filed Wednesday and sponsored by Reps. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky, and Marilyn John, R-Richland County, would be amended with finalized language from any approved school funding formula bill. It simply states the Legislature’s intent to “allow families to choose the option for all computed funding amounts associated with the students’ education to follow them to the schools they attend.”

Currently, Ohio students at or below 250% of the federal poverty level or attend a failing school are eligible for an EdChoice scholarship.

The Backpack Bill was only part of the ongoing school-choice debate in Ohio. The Buckeye Institute Research Fellow Greg Lawson testified Wednesday before the Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee in an effort to advance educational savings accounts (ESAs) in the proposed new funding formula.

Lawson said ESAs offer parents needed resources and flexibility to improve their child’s educational success, calling on the state to move past a one-size-fits-all education system he says funds districts over students.

“Education savings accounts – or ESAs – provide a bipartisan funding solution to this recurring problem by helping parents afford critical education resources and the flexibility needed for students to succeed,” Lawson testified. “As The Buckeye Institute has shown, ESAs can also help close some of the opportunity gaps and make the transition to new curricula easier and less expensive for families. In addition to traditional tuition expenses, ESAs can be used to purchase laptops or other technology for distance learning, tutoring services or supplemental material.”

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