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New Ohio Governor Targets School Vouchers

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New Ohio Governor Targets School Vouchers

Education

New Ohio Governor Targets School Vouchers

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

On Fridays we focus on your money.

Twelve states now have programs to help some parents pay tuition at private schools. Utah has begun moving toward providing all students with vouchers. Ohio is going in a different direction. The new governor of that state is trying to rollback one of the nation's first voucher programs.

Bill Cohen of Ohio Public Radio reports.

BILL COHEN: For the past year, about 3,000 Ohio families with children in poorly performing public schools have been handed vouchers worth $4,000 to $5,000 for tuition at private schools. It's a statewide expansion of a program that began in Cleveland a decade ago.

Now, new governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, is proposing wiping out vouchers everywhere but Cleveland. He says, in tight budget times, Ohio cannot afford the $13 million spent each year on vouchers.

Governor TED STRICKLAND (Democrat, Ohio): Wastefulness and giveaways can no longer be tolerated.

COHEN: The governor's move has prompted voucher parents to flock to the capital. They're telling personal horror stories about public schools and expressing fears that they're kids will now be yanked out of the private schools they attend.

Becky Jordan(ph) challenges the governor to meet her daughter.

Ms. BECKY JORDAN (Resident, Ohio): I just want him to come and I want him to look at her face. And I want him to tell her that she can't go there anymore. That he's kicking her out of that school.

COHEN: Christen Manion(ph) now goes to a religious high school paid for by a voucher - that is by Ohio taxpayers. She says it's a great change, not just because of tougher academic standards.

Ms. CHRISTEN MANION (Student): We have a chance to, kind of, be encased in a safety bubble to where we don't have to necessarily be part of the world and experience the trauma that so many students and so many people in public schools experience: drugs, sex, violence, guns.

COHEN: Governor Strickland says the solution is to get those problems out of the public schools, not siphon thousands of dollars away from them each time a student bails out.

Gov. STRICKLAND: The answer is not to allow only a few children to leave that school and take resources from that school and leave all of the other children back there in a failing school. Our goal must be to address the problems of the failing school.

COHEN: But voucher backers insist vouchers don't really cost the state money, they note that public schools spend an average of $9,000 a year on each student, nearly twice what taxpayers spend on each voucher. Unions representing public school teachers side with the governor in opposing vouchers.

Darold Johnson lobbies for the Ohio Federation of Teachers. He says loopholes have allowed some scams.

Mr. DAROLD JOHNSON (Director of Legislation and Political Actions, Ohio Federation of Teachers): Parents who never had a child in public schools, taking them out of private schools, put him into these low performing schools where they are weak, just so they get a voucher to send their child back to their private school they came from.

COHEN: Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers is hoping if vouchers can be rolled back in Ohio, the move will energize voucher foes across the country. Chuck Porcari speaks for the union.

Mr. CHUCK PORCARI (Director of Media Affairs, American Federation of Teachers): Because what it does is it sets a trend. Ohio is a bellwether state politically, in a lot of ways and a lot of issues nationally.

COHEN: Ohio's original voucher program in Cleveland helped establish that vouchers are constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court declared five years ago that the Cleveland vouchers were okay, even though most of the students use them to attend religious schools.

For NPR News, I'm Bill Cohen in Columbus.

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