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Privatizing Education - Vouchers

Updated: Apr 10

In Ohio, privatizing education takes three forms: vouchers, charter schools, and tax credits. Each approach allows families who opt out of public schools to use public funds for their education alternative. Those funds are not subject to oversight by an elected school board and operate with fewer constraints and less transparency than the public schools serving the same community.


With the inception of vouchers and charter schools in 1997, the Legislature has approved a steady increase in spending on unaccountable private options without meeting its obligation to fund the public system.

Source: Steve Dyer, Heights Coalition Forum, Are Vouchers Legal?

The legislature has increased overall spending on education but the growth has gone to private options. If it had invested those funds in the public system, it would have made real progress toward its Constitutional obligation to adequately fund public education.

Source: Steve Dyer, Heights Coalition Forum, Are Vouchers Legal?

LWVO positions relevant to privatizing education:

  1. LWVO opposes vouchers.

  2. LWVO believes that public funds should be used only in public schools

  3. LWVO supports a funding system for public elementary and secondary education that is accountable and responsive to the taxpayers.

  4. The locally elected school board is constitutionally established to provide oversight and direction to the educational system in each district.

  5. The school board should have the authority and the responsibility to require fiscal, management and procedural accountability and enforcement of charter terms and conditions.

Focus On Advocacy

  • Oppose Universal Vouchers

  • Increase the number of school districts that join the litigation challenging the constitutionality of EdChoice vouchers



Ohio Voucher Program History and Use

In 1997, Ohio took its first step to privatize public education when it created the Cleveland Scholarship Program. Instead of increasing its investment or encouraging practices to improve the quality of education available to all Cleveland students, the legislature created its first voucher program, allowing the use of public funds to pay for private school tuition for some children.

Public funds are now spent in schools that are selective about who they serve, can discriminate, and offer few protections for the rights of students or teachers. Participating schools are not held to the same standards of accountability or transparency as public schools, and lack oversight by a board of education that is answerable to the public.

The Cleveland Scholarship Program was a project of Governor George Voinovich and was justified as a way to give children attending Cleveland’s underfunded public schools, access to “better” schools at public expense. It coincided with declining enrollment in that city’s Catholic schools. Most students use their vouchers to attend a religious school and in 1999 a coalition that included the LWVO challenged its constitutionality as a violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment. In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court in the Zelman case, ruled the program to be school neutral and legal.

Number Awarded (2021)











EdChoice Exp. All

Source: Steve Dyer, Heights Coalition Forum, Are Vouchers Legal?

Following the Zelman decision, Ohio lawmakers created four additional voucher programs, each targeting different populations. The Autism and John Peterson programs focus on children with disabilities. EdChoice gives scholarships to children who reside in the attendance area of a public school with low test scores. EdChoice Expansion targets low-income families statewide. Each year the legislature has slowly expanded access through rule changes, and moved away from initial justification for these programs.

The legislature establishes the amount that the state will spend for each student in each program, and has consistently increased the value of a voucher in all five programs. The 2023 state budget set $5,500 for elementary students and $7,500 for high school students who receive vouchers in the Cleveland, EdChoice and EdChoice Expansion programs. Autism students are guaranteed $31,500, and students in the Peterson program can receive up to $27,000. The average state aid per student for public school students in 2022 was $4,008.

In 2020, when the number of districts deemed to be failing was set to grow from 140 to more than 420, the legislature made two significant changes to the Ed Choice voucher program. They limited access to EdChoice vouchers to school districts where 20% or more of students qualify for Title 1 (high poverty), and in schools whose test scores fall in lowest 20% of all schools in Ohio for two consecutive years. During the 2021-22 school year, EdChoice vouchers were available in 473 buildings found in 87 high poverty school districts. The number of schools and districts will vary each year depending on standardized test scores. Because state tests and consequences were suspended for two years, the list of eligible buildings will not change for two years.

After more than 25 years of experience with vouchers, the evidence suggests funding private education with public funds does not improve outcomes, nor does it substantially increase use of private education by people who were not already enrolled or intending to enroll in a private school. According to the Ohio Department of Education’s fiscal analysis of HB 583, about 33% of students who used Edchoice Expansion vouchers in 2022 left a public school. Numbers vary widely by school district. The majority of voucher students already used a private school or never intended to attend a public school. Vouchers are primarily a subsidy for private school education-with no financial need requirement.


Resources and Links

Ravitch, Diane. Reign of Error. The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.

Click here for LSC analysis of HB290.

school-choice-program-funding.pdf (

Click here to read the Vouchers Hurt Ohio lawsuit.

Click here to watch the February 24, 2022 forum cosponsored by LWVO, Are Vouchers Legal?

Click here for national research on vouchers: Public Schooling In America

Click here for analysis of privatizing education.

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