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Ohio bishops urge support for education legislation

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March 9, 2011

COLUMBUS — The Catholic Conference of Ohio (CCO) is urging support for legislative action that will affect Catholic school families over the next few weeks in the Ohio General Assembly.


The proposal, designated HB136, was proposed by State Rep. Matt Huffman of Lima earlier this month and deals with expanded school-choice opportunities and the protection of existing forms of state funding that benefit students and schools.


This legislation contains two statewide scholarship programs. These programs would supplant the Ed Choice Scholarship Program (Ed Choice) and the Cleveland Scholarship Tutoring Program (CS&TP) and grandfather existing scholarship students from the Ed Choice and CS&TP.


The first of the proposed new statewide scholarship programs is poverty-based. The amount of the scholarship is based on a student’s household income. The second program provides special education scholarships. The amount of the scholarship is based on the student’s disabilities. The primary condition to receive a scholarship is for the student to have an Individual Education Plan completed on his or her behalf. Students must have a documented disability that is referenced within one of six categories within the Ohio Revised Code.
Jim Rigg, archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, who has met with Huffman, describes the bill as “complex.”


If passed, he said, it would combine the current Ed Choice voucher program and Cleveland Scholarship Program into a single fund that would be made available to families with students entering private schools or families already in private schools who already receive vouchers. Funds would be assigned based upon family income and a sliding scale would be utilized, thereby extending the money into higher income brackets. Funds would also be assigned regardless of the performance of the schools district in which the family is located and schools would be free to charge additional tuition above the amounts reached by the state, Rigg added.


If it passes, Rigg said, the bill “has tremendous potential to bring more families into our Catholic schools. National studies have shown that the top reasons families do not attend Catholic schools is because of the cost of tuition. Yet an integral part of our mission is to ensure that all families can attend out schools, regardless of their economic background. As written, this bill would likely allow more families to afford our schools and extend state supported funding to areas of the archdiocese that are not currently reached by the Ed Choice voucher program.”


“This is not our only priority is regards to state funding,” Rigg added. “Our schools also benefit heavily from state monies through auxiliary services, administrative cost reimbursement, transportation, the autism scholarship and other programs. It is vital to us that the programs continue as well.”


While the Ohio’s bishops are advising support for the, Rigg noted the CCO has also indicated two significant drawbacks to the proposed legislation: the funds would not initially be available to families who already attend private schools, but do not currently receive vouchers, even if they would qualify for these funds, and families currently in private schools who currently receive vouchers would qualify for funds, however their income be re-assessed to determine how much money they should receive.


“Thus, it is possible, that current voucher families may receive few dollars in future years,” he explained.


Rigg said Huffman “seems genuinely interested in the welfare of our schools and he is convinced that much of this bill will survive intact to become law.”


Catholic school supporters and school-choice proponents will gather for a rally supporting the proposed legislation March 22 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Rigg, along with other staff members from the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office, and representatives from area Catholic schools plan to attend.


“We feel that it is vital to reach out to our legislators in a critical year,” Rigg said. “The budget for the next biennium will set over the coming months, and it is critical that our legislators are aware of the great value of our Catholic schools. Ohio is a great state for Catholic education. I have been deeply impressed and please by the support of our lawmakers for private schools. It is my hope and prayer that this level of support will continue without inhibition.


At the local level, the Catholic Schools Office is planning three outreach events to allow school representatives the opportunity to interact with their legislators. Each school has been assigned to an event based its location and the principal or president of each school (or his or designee) has been asked to attend the event or their area, Rigg said. The principal or president is also asked to bring a positive stakeholder, such as a pastor, teacher, parent leader or board member with them, with them as an additional attendee. The events are scheduled for the following dates and times: College of Mount St. Joseph, April 8, 9:30-11 a.m.; Xavier University, May 9, 9:30-11 a.m.; and the University of Dayton, May 20, 9:30-11 a.m.


For a complete summary of the bill, access the OACS (Ohio Advocates for Catholic School) link at www.ohiocathconf.org

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