Ohio House Approves Voucher Bill Targeting Cleveland Schools

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The Ohio House late last week approved a voucher plan that would help pay tuition for Cleveland students at private and religious schools.

The measure, being considered as part of the budget proposal by the House Republican leadership, would provide $5.25 million for a pilot project. It remained unclear last week how many students such a project would serve.

The program has generated storms of protests, with opponents falling short in their efforts to kill it during floor debate.

An amendment to delete the voucher program was easily defeated. But observers said the House plan will face a tougher test in the Republican-controlled Senate. Officials were unsure when the Senate would take up the bill.

The G.O.P. wrested control of the House in the fall elections, and Republican leaders have been pushing the voucher proposal, which would affect only the Cleveland district.

Ohio is one of several states where vouchers have emerged as a hot issue following Republican election victories. The Illinois Senate has approved such legislation, and Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania has proposed a statewide-voucher plan. (See Education Week, 3/15/95.)

A Salve for Cleveland?

In Ohio, backers of the House bill argued along with some city activists that the voucher program was an important part of helping improve the beleaguered Cleveland school system.

A federal judge, citing the district's management problems and severe budget deficit, last month turned control of the district over to the state schools superintendent. (See Education Week, 3/15/95.)

The House bill would require that at least half the students receiving vouchers would have to have been previously enrolled in public schools.

The win in the House was seen as advancing Gov. George V. Voinovich's longtime interest in school vouchers. This year, he introduced legislation for a $12.5 million statewide pilot program that would have served an estimated 4,000 students.

Church-State Issue

Although House G.O.P. leaders revised the Republican Governor's plan into the current Cleveland-only version, the Governor backs the proposal, Fern Conte, a spokeswoman for Mr. Voinovich, said. The Governor, however, still hopes the Senate will revive his original proposal, she added.

In the weeks leading up to the House debate, opponents of the plan held rallies in Cleveland and Columbus to protest what they called its unconstitutional melding of church and state.

The voucher plan "does nothing except rob the Cleveland schools of funds and possibly more good students," Richard DeColibus, the president of the Cleveland Teachers Union, said at one rally.

Critics also denounced a provision in the House bill that would give a commission appointed by the Governor authority to set tuition caps and income-eligibility requirements.

Mr. Voinovich and the state school board feud over many issues, and the Governor wanted a group overseeing the plan that strongly supports vouchers, said Paul B. Palagyi, Mr. Voinovich's special assistant on education.

Vol. 14, Issue 29

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