O’Brien revives bill allowing state funds to be used for private tuition | News, Sports, Jobs

State Sen. Sandra O’Brien, whose district includes all of Trumbull County, is sponsoring legislation to provide public dollars for students to attend private schools and increase the current home-schooling tax credit.

Called the Parent Education Freedom Act, also known as the Backpack Bill, the proposal would provide $5,500 for students in grades K-8 and $7,500 for those in grades 9-12 to be “used at any public, community or chartered nonpublic school.”

It would expand the current EdChoice Scholarship program in Cleveland to the entire state.

O’Brien, R-Lenox, said the proposal “empowers our parents, encourages healthy competition and makes Ohio an even better state to raise a family. Every parent has the right to choose a school that best meets their student’s needs, and I look forward to this bill allowing Ohio’s parents to make those choices.”

O’Brien introduced identical legislation in the Senate on Nov. 29. It had a Dec. 6 committee hearing but didn’t advance further than that in the lame duck session.

The reintroduced bill, which has two years to pass, also increases the tax credit for those who are home-schooled from $250 to $2,000.

O’Brien said she wanted to wait to comment further until she gives sponsor testimony on the bill. When that hearing will occur isn’t known.

O’Brien said she expects the bill to be sent for hearings to the Senate Education Committee of which she is a member.

During the Dec. 6 hearing in front of the Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee, which was renamed the Senate Education Committee for this legislative session, O’Brien said in her sponsor testimony: “Parents know the needs of their children more than the state does, and the Parent Educational Freedom Act would capitalize on this rising desire to give parents the choice to send their children to schools they feel would be the best fit.”

The Ohio Education Association, the largest public school teachers’ union in the state, opposes the proposal and a similar effort in the Ohio House. The House failed to take action during the last legislative session on the bill.

“Dumping precious resources into a universal voucher system that provides zero auditing requirements for the private schools that would rake in the taxpayers’ cash is just wrong,” OEA President Scott DiMauro said when the Backpack Bill was introduced last year.

The Center for Christian Virtue, the state’s largest Christian public policy organization, supports O’Brien’s bill saying it greatly expands school-aged children’s education options.

O’Brien, a former public school teacher, said in her Dec. 6 testimony: “Ohio should act now to put parents, not government, in control of their children’s education.”

She praised public school teachers, but added that “the one-size-fits-all approach to education simply does not work.”

O’Brien’s Senate district includes all of Trumbull and Ashtabula counties and a portion of Geauga County.

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