Facts About Vouchers
In Cleveland, influential voucher advocate David Brennan successfully urged Gov. Voinovich to raise the income cap at the outset of the voucher program (1999), with the result that voucher schools could have access to wealthier students.1
While billed as a program for low-income students, the Cleveland voucher legislation itself did not specify an upper income cap. Students whose family income is at or below 200% of the poverty line qualify for the maximum benefit—90% of the scholarship amount, up to $2,250. However, students at or above 200% still qualify for 75% of the scholarship amount, up to $1,875, meaning that anyone in the district is voucher eligible as long as funds are available. As a result, during the program’s first year, $1.6 million—almost 25 percent of Ohio taxpayers’ cost—went toward the tuition of students already enrolled in and paying for private schools.2 In fact, a recent study conducted by the Cleveland-based research institute Policy Matters Ohio determined that one in three students participating in the voucher program was already enrolled in a private school prior to receiving a voucher.3
According to the United States Court of Appeals ruling, almost 40% of the students receiving vouchers in the 1999-00 school year were above the poverty line.4 Similarly, according to a 2000 report published by the Cleveland-based non-partisan newsmagazine, Catalyst, 38% of students using vouchers came from households whose income was at or below 100% of the poverty level. Students with a family income between 100 and 200% of the poverty level made up 41% of voucher enrollment and students with a family income of 200% or more of the poverty level made up 22% of the enrollment.5 Because so many students not perceived as having significant financial needs were receiving scholarships, the state recommended that the Ohio General Assembly clarify the law if it was indeed its intent to award vouchers to students in financial need.6 To date, legislators have not provided such clarification.
The Akron Beacon Journal reported that the state employee responsible for designing the voucher application selection process wrote his boss during the program’s first year indicating that it appeared poor children selected by lottery may have been passed over for students from higher-income families.7
Additionally, African-American students do not have the same access to voucher schools as white students. For example, according to a report published by Catalyst, 42% of black families have one or fewer voucher schools within a one-mile radius of their homes. The areas with the least access to voucher schools are frequently those with the highest concentration of black children. In contrast, 52% of whites and 55% of Hispanics have three or more voucher schools within a one-mile radius of their homes.8