COLUMBUS, Ohio — This week in the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee, lawmakers introduced the "Backpack Bill."
Discussions over House Bill 11, which would establish the Backpack Scholarship Program, were lengthy. The program would provide students a chance to have an educational savings account beginning in the 2024-25 school year. Right now, it’s unclear exactly how much each student would receive.
The sponsors of the legislation said it could help solve education disparities.
"Education is not 'one size fits all' and public education doesn't work for every student," Rep. Marilyn John, R-Shelby said. "A story was shared with me of a young boy enrolled in one of the highest-rated public school systems in central Ohio. At school, this young man has been bullied and harassed mercilessly to the point where the parents want to transfer him to another school district. Unfortunately, their options are limited they do not live in a school district that is eligible for ed choice scholarships and their income level disqualifies them. Enrollment options are limited or nonexistent. What are parents to do in these situations?"
When it comes to cost, John told the panel the bill will not change the allocated local and federal tax funds. She said dollars in the program would differ student to student and would most likely be higher for students who remain in public schools. But critics are still concerned about the price tag of the legislation, including Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Cincinnati, who is worried that if dollars aren't set aside properly there could be cuts to public schools in the future.
"I do truly believe this is the biggest bipartisan issue with HB 11 is the price tag," Miranda said. "Right, so with our current budget, this has competing priorities, right? So why should we choose to pay private school tuition. Then, for those who have made that choice instead of finishing the job and fully funding the school funding plan."
Those who have reservations about the Backpack Bill said there's little regulation to charter schools and the money could benefit students who don't need it. Rep. Sean Brennan questioned if sponsors would be open to an amendment that would require private schools to accept any student to apply.
The questions also included the LGBTQ community and how they would be impacted in charter schools.
The Backpack Bill will continue to be discussed in committee.
A separate universal voucher plan which is also known as Senate Bill 11 has received two hearings so far in the Senate Education Committee.