Legislative Update - The "Backpack Bill"

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This legislative update is focused on a dangerous proposed bill that would gut funding for Ohio’s public schools if passed. Skip down to the bottom of the email for a quick way to take action on this issue!

On October 7th  Representatives Marilyn John and Riordan McClain held a press conference announcing their new language to HB 290, the “backpack” bill. The bill is based on legislation in six states regarding education saving accounts (Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina) and the West Virginia backpack bill that passed last year, creating a statewide voucher program and saving programs.

In short, this bill would create a universal voucher program ($5,500 for K-8 students, $7,500 for 9-12 students), but unlike Ohio’s five existing voucher programs, the backpack voucher would also go to students who are homeschooled and students who attend non-chartered non-public schools. These are a small subset of private schools that don’t follow any public guidelines at all, making them ineligible for state funding. You may have heard about recent scandals involving Bishop Sycamore and Christians of Faith Academy, two non-chartered non-public schools. Providing public funds to these schools is a radical departure from current policy, and an opportunity for additional fraud and waste. 

The overall impact of this bill would be to reduce funding for traditional public schools and create a new education bureaucracy within the Treasurer’s office that exists to funnel public funds to private entities.

The bill is a clear violation of the legislature’s responsibility, under the Ohio Constitution, to fund a system of common public schools. This bill creates multiple systems that could easily further segregate students by religious denomination and by income.

Ohio already has five voucher programs, which is more than any other state, and a robust system of charter schools and vocational and other specialty schools. One voucher program serves all Ohio families with income levels up to 300 percent of the poverty level. Ohio students do not lack for school choice. This bill is about the Republican supermajority’s desire to privatize public education. 

While the full legislative language is not yet available, you can read a summary of the bill’s provisions here

Call to Action:

HB 290 is pending in the House Finance Committee. If your representative serves on the committee, call them today with the message below. You can see the list of committee members here and click on the name to find their contact information. If your representative does not serve on the committee, call Committee Chair Scott Oelslager (614-752-2438) with the message below. Customize the message to say why this is important to you. 

Message: HB 290 would harm public schools by diverting more funds to unaccountable private schools. Ohio students already have plenty of school choices without HB 290. Instead, the legislature should focus on a fair school funding formula that is consistent with the Ohio constitution. Finally, creating an education bureaucracy within the Treasurer’s office is a waste of money.