Last February, a group of dedicated community members waited nine hours before having an opportunity at 2:30 a.m. to testify before the House Bill 9 Conference Committee about their personal experiences with Westerville City Schools and why the EdChoice Voucher expansion is flawed. Superintendent Dr. John Kellogg and Treasurer/CFO Nicole Marshall remained with the group for the duration of the process. (From L to R, Front: Rachel Crites, Tammy Bennett, Liz Washburn, Katy Weaver. Middle: Colleen Moidu, Molly Lynch, Amy Raubenolt, Valerie Cumming. Back: Kellogg & Marshall.)
The Westerville City School District (WCSD) Board of Education on Monday, June 22, 2020, unanimously approved a resolution to join the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy for School Funding and support legal proceedings challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s EdChoice private school voucher program.
The resolution notes that funds taken from the district to pay for vouchers results in a decrease to revenue available to support the instructional needs of local students; can result in the involuntary transfer of district tax revenue approved by voters for public school use; and creates a greater reliance on local taxes to maintain school revenue, which is in violation of the Ohio Constitution and directives of the Oho Supreme Court.
“We have tried repeatedly to work with the legislature around the issue of the EdChoice Vouchers, as well as around other vouchers and charters, and we have gotten nowhere,” explained Board Member Dr. Nancy Nestor-Baker. “Unfortunately, you reach a point where you know that advocacy alone will not save the day, and that’s where I am at this point in time as I watch millions of dollars leave this district for purposes for which they were never intended and see no true respite on the horizon.”
Nestor-Baker noted that joining this effort can recoup far more for the district than the cost to participate. Treasurer/CFO Nicole Marshall said the membership cost is $2 per pupil, $1.50 of which will support the cost of the lawsuit and the rest will support general operating costs of the coalition.
Due to pending expansion of the voucher program, without some action to intervene, beginning next year and in all subsequent years the state could take more than $1million from WCSD’s general fund budget to fund the tuitions of private school students. This includes the deduction of state funds, as well as local tax dollars approved by residents to fund the public education program of WCSD.
“We can’t even begin to imagine what the financial impact is because students who never attended our district would be eligible,” said Board Member Jen Aultman. “We have an estimate, but we don’t know the actual number.”
Marshall said it is impossible to calculate the actual impact of vouchers on district finances because students who have never been enrolled in WCSD’s schools are eligible to receive private school vouchers.
“The voucher follows a student throughout their school career,” Marshall explained. “Once a student is eligible for the scholarship, they remain eligible whether the public school they would attend is on the identified list of voucher-eligible schools or not.”
Superintendent Dr. John Kellogg said those involved in pursuing this legal action feel there are strong grounds for the lawsuit they intend to bring forth.
“This isn’t frivolous or just political action, this is grounded in some legal fact that people feel needs to be brought forward,” Kellogg said. “I don’t really think it matters how far it impacts us now, I think it matters how much further it will go in the future and just the fact that it’s wrong. On that alone, I think strong districts like ours, one of the biggest in the state, need to step up with fellow school district that are going to be much more negatively impacted by this, which means more children left behind than in the past.”