Cooper testifies at statehouse in opposition to costly Ed-Choice program 

Shravani Page | Staff Writer

In February, Superintendent Jonathan Cooper testified at the state house in regards to the Ed-Choice expansion being implemented for Mason Early Childhood Center.

Twenty years ago, the Ohio Supreme Court declared school funding in Ohio unconstitutional. But even after all these years, nothing has been done.

Ed-Choice is a program where students from public schools are allowed to receive a voucher from their school in order to attend a private or charter school. There are two parts to Ed-Choice. Students who are economically disadvantaged have the opportunity to take a sum of money from the school in order to afford a private school education to help them grow to their full potential. This was the original nature of the program which was funded by the state and the one we currently have put in place.

The other part of the program came into play with Governor Mike DeWine when the “Ed-Choice expansion” was proposed. The expansion will make more individuals eligible for participation in the program. Through this expansion, every high school student will be eligible and might have the opportunity to take as much as $6000 per student from the school in order to afford a private school education.

The money taken by Mason’s voters and taxpayers could be being shifted from public to private schools due to this voucher if the Ed-Choice expansion is passed. Although it can be argued that this may cause competition between different public versus private schools, Mason Superintendent Jonathan Cooper claimed the issue isn’t necessarily between public versus private schools to begin with — it’s rather the idea that the decision has hurt many in the process.

“We 100% believe that we have great private and parochial school partners, this whole issue isn’t an us versus them,” Cooper said. “This is a state legislative problem where the state government made a decision not wise for the state and hurt people in that process because they didn’t include a public voice when making the decision. They made a decision in a room without educators, superintendents, or the public being present. They made more students eligible for the program and tied the availability of the voucher to the state report card.”

The state report card is also another area of concern regarding the program for school districts. There is a popular belief that the state report card is very flawed along with the funding formula. Many schools were qualified to become a part of the expansion, along with Mason Early Childhood Center, which was deemed as failing. Cooper suggested that the system is rather defective. 

“They qualified hundreds of schools onto this new expansions and identified Mason Early Childhood Center as a failing school,” Cooper said. “But the same week, I also received a banner from the State of Ohio that says we’re one of the top districts and top 10 in the state.”

Cooper claimed that the system has led to more confusion because they’re tying the childhood center’s failure to a state test. Mason Early Childhood Center (MECC) doesn’t even take state tests and 100% of Mason’s students pass the third grade guaranteed. 

Cooper added his input on the situation and his concerns with the development of Ed-Choice and the government’s decision regarding the program. Cooper testified at the state house in mid-February because of the K3 literacy measure which deemed MECC as a failing school under unreasonable circumstances.

“When I testified about a week ago, I could see the outrage that this issue has caused,” Cooper said. “This is such a big deal because the larger group of kids that qualified for this new expansion can take up to $6000 away from the school. We only receive $3000 from the state per child. So the state is giving families the right to take double the money we receive from the state.”

The $6000 voucher was supposed to go into effect on February 1st, but was pushed back by two months until April 1st. Steve Wilson, Republican State Senator, said that he believes this delaying of this bill could potentially lead to more conflict with local school districts. Wilson elaborated on the problems with the funding formula which determines how much funding each district gets per student. 

“My schools such as Mason, Kings, Little Miami, Lebanon, Franklin, and Springboro aren’t in that situation where they’re paying out more money than they’re taking in,” Wilson said. “Or they don’t even have to provide vouchers because they have a high enough grade in the school report card that they’re not going to be in jeopardy.”

Ed-Choice was created by legislators who felt that it was unfair to have kids to attend failing schools and for their parents to have a choice of where they sent their kids. But Wilson said that there are a few core problems that should be tackled first regarding the program.

“The education system needs several things that need to be fixed,” Wilson said. “The state report card is one of them. The funding formula is another thing that’s flawed in my opinion. They cap the funding schools can receive and then Ed-Choice, as it has evolved, is flawed. My hope is and what I’ve pushed for is that we work on all four points at once.”

Cooper believes the real core of this issue is having legislators making decisions that impact public schools without understanding how that decision is going to impact schools across the state. Some legislators have used this voucher to send their own kids to these private schools while taking money away from the district’s families.

“The difficulty with that is private and parochial schools are not required to accept everybody,” Cooper said. “Public schools accept everybody. My son has Down Syndrome and he’s a third grader here. He would not be accepted to some of these schools because they don’t have the resources. So for people to take public dollars from our families and use them in that manner is not a good practice.”

Photo contributed by Jonathan Cooper.