In Ohio, State Rep. Kyle Koehler’s bill to expand school vouchers may soon move to a vote of the state’s House of Representatives. Koehler’s proposed legislation would consolidate three of Ohio’s school voucher plans into one bigger program and at the same time increase the number of students who are eligible
Here is Patrick O’Donnell of the Plain Dealer: “A plan to expand Ohio’s private school tuition voucher program to more middle class families could soon go to vote in the Ohio House, despite stalling out in the Senate earlier this year. House Bill 200, just like the earlier proposal in the Senate from State. Sen. Matt Huffman, would combine the three voucher programs Ohio has now—one with strict income requirements, one for students in ‘failing’ schools and one for only Cleveland residents—into a single program. The new ‘Opportunity Scholarships’ would give families a state subsidy toward private school tuition, regardless of where in Ohio they live, regardless of the rating of their local public school, and with relaxed income restrictions. If the bill passes, families would receive $5,000 in state tax money to help pay tuition—almost always at religious schools—for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and $7,500 for high school students.”
O’Donnell reports that Andrew Brenner, chair of the education committee in the Ohio House, hopes to pass the bill out of committee and bring it to a vote on the House floor within weeks. If it passes, Senator Matt Huffman says he will bring the issue back before Ohio’s senate. O’Donnell reports that the new law would make school vouchers available to about 60 percent of families in Ohio, as their children could qualify for a full voucher if their family income is 200 percent of poverty or less and a partial voucher if their income is 300 percent of poverty.
On Sunday, the Plain Dealer‘s editorial board condemned the plan for robbing the state of money desperately needed for public schools: “An Ohio House committee may soon approve a bill rewriting and expanding Ohio’s school-voucher programs—even though the estimated cost is a ridiculous $48 million a year to start, and sure to rise because of built-in escalators based on demand. If the legislature wanted to spend that money on improving public schools that would be one thing. But underwriting a small number of private and parochial schools—at the expense of the state’s public ones—is not something Ohio can afford to do.”
The editorial board points out that the bill sets a limit of 60,000 vouchers in the first year to be distributed among 846,000 eligible students. Other states have proven, however, that once a program is established, caps and limits are easily lifted by future legislatures sympathetic to privatization.
Just as Ohio considers expanding its tuition voucher program, an in-depth report complied by Rebecca Klein appeared this week in the Huffington Post. Klein cautions about the curricula being used in many voucher supported, religious schools across the country. While the majority of Ohio students carry their tuition vouchers primarily to Catholic and Lutheran parochial schools and Jewish Day Schools, Klein’s in-depth report this week surveys the curricula adopted in private evangelical Christian schools nationwide where students are paying tuition with public tax dollars.
Here is how Klein conducted her investigation: “Several months ago, HuffPost set out to create a database of every private school in the country that receives taxpayer funding. We also tracked the religious affiliation of each school and looked at how many taught from… evangelical Christian textbooks… Our analysis found that about 75 percent of voucher schools across the country are religious—usually Christian or Catholic, with about 2 percent identifying as Jewish and 1 percent identifying as Muslim… Since a plurality of schools in these programs (42 percent) are non-Catholic Christian schools, we dove deeply into researching the curriculum of those schools. We searched their websites for information on curriculum sources and sent out emails to school leaders if they did not make their academic plan public. We did not assess Catholic schools, which made up 29 percent of Christian schools, since there is already a large body of research on the outcomes of students who go to these schools. Evangelical Christian schools are newer—many popped up only a few decades ago—and remain less scrutinized. Indeed, we found many of the non-Catholic Christian schools (32 percent) were using Abeka, Bob Jones or ACE textbooks in at least one subject or grade.”
Here is what Klein discovered about Abeka, Bob Jones and ACE textbooks: “A HuffPost analysis of Abeka, Bob Jones, and ACE textbooks confirms…. these materials inaccurately portray events in Muslim and Catholic history while perpetuating anti-Semetic stereotypes. The materials speak disparagingly of Native Americans and Native culture… A Bob Jones high school world history textbook portrays Islam as a violent religion…. In the same textbook, when describing the Catholic Reformation, Catholic leaders are described as failing ‘to see that the root of their problems was doctrinal error.’ When describing the concept of Manifest Destiny, the term used to describe America’s 19th century expansion westward, an ACE textbook referred to the movement essentially as spreading the gospel..” Klein’s report is worth reading as it traces the development of these curricula and their publishing houses. Klein also interviews students who read these textbooks at school and who were exposed to mainstream scientific principles only after they finished school.
What we remember as we read Klein’s report is that as we direct tax dollars to private schools in the form of tuition vouchers or tax credit vouchers, the public loses any public control over what is taught. Klein quotes Kathleen Wellman, a professor of history at Southern Methodist University who is conducting research on the textbooks used in many of Christian religious schools: “I want parents to know their children might be coming home with a book that looks like an ordinary textbook but the messages are not what people would ordinarily learn… Many universities don’t require history education, so for many Americans this will be their last exposure to history. And many students say they didn’t realize at the time how thoroughly they were being indoctrinated.”