Diverted Benefits: The Real Story About Ohio’s School Voucher Expansion

We update a school busing dispute with implications regarding church and state separation. We also look into the expansion of school vouchers in Ohio, revealing that the program primarily benefits higher-income families already in private schools rather than helping low-income students in struggling public schools.

Episode 75: Diverted Benefits: The Real Story About Ohio’s School Voucher Expansion

In this episode, we update a school busing dispute with implications regarding church and state separation. We also look into the expansion of school vouchers in Ohio, revealing that the program primarily benefits higher-income families already in private schools rather than helping low-income students in struggling public schools.

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Judge denies claim Sylvania schools’ buses for religious schools are unconstitutional (view as a PDF)
Jennifer Swiech v Sylvania Schools Board of Education

NEW Data: The Voucher Explosion…
…Keeps Getting Worse

More than 91,000 have applied for Ohio private school voucher expansion


Click Here to Read Full Transcript

[00:01] This is Glass City Humanist, a show about humanism, humanist values, by a humanist. Here is your host, Douglas Berger. Welcome to our 75th episode. We get an update on a school busing dispute with church and state implications. Then we talk about data from the school voucher expansion here in Ohio. Needless to say, it isn’t doing what conservatives said it would do. Glass City Humanist is an outreach project of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, building community through compassion and reason for a better tomorrow.

[00:39] Music.

[00:49] Probably at least two years ago, I covered a story. It was a lawsuit that had been filed by a couple of families in the Sylvania School District, which is a suburb of Toledo, concerning the bus transportation for their elementary age students or children.

[1:10] And they were being bused to their Catholic private school on the other side of town. And the families were upset because the children had to get on the bus at like six o’clock in the morning, five or they had to get up at five thirty and get on the bus. It was very early for somebody in the elementary school because usually elementary school kids don’t go to school that early, usually. And so they were upset that, you know, they had tried to work with the school district to get accommodation, better accommodation for their kids. And the reason being, because in Ohio, under state law, public school districts are required to transport all school aged children to their schools. And it doesn’t go into details about how to do that, but because the school districts get money from the state to not only pay for the buses, but to provide the transportation, that’s part of the deal. I don’t particularly agree with it, but that’s part of the deal.

[2:21] And so Sylvania School District, along with other school districts in our state, are having real trouble coming up with drivers, bus drivers, because it’s a special breed, I’m telling you. You don’t work the whole day. Usually it’s supposed to be retired people. You have to have a CDL to drive a bus, and you’re dealing with all these kids a couple of times a day. So you know more power to them i tip my hats to bus drivers uh because i don’t think i’d had the patience to do it and uh so a lot of school districts have been having problems especially after the pandemic after the covid 19 hit um and i think because a lot of the people that would have been bus drivers decided not to do it anymore because of the covid or maybe they They passed away and they weren’t available.

[3:21] And so Sylvania had to redo their bus routing. And come to find out during this lawsuit period that this lawsuit had come out in 2022, come to find out that these Catholic families had actually been getting a special deal from the school district, their own bus route, which went away because they had to reallocate their resources. So basically you had little John and Tina Q Public getting on the bus with teenagers, going to the high school and being dropped off and then getting on another bus to go to their Catholic school. And the parents did not want that to happen. And one, they didn’t think the kids should be getting up that early. And second, they didn’t want them riding with teenagers, you teenagers, whatever. And and they thought that the school district should do something different so that they would take them from their house to directly to the school.

[4:30] And the school district was like, you know, we can’t do that. So they fought. So the parents filed a lawsuit in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, I believe it was. And in the initial ruling, the judge that they got agreed that the kids had were getting up too early, which she made that decision without any evidence that that it was bad for kids or anything like that. And ordered the school and the parents to work on a plan, and that didn’t happen.

[5:06] So they wanted to continue the lawsuit. Well, the school district decided, well, and the other part of the lawsuit, besides the kids getting up too early, riding with teenagers, ew, was that they claimed that it violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion because they were being treated differently than other people that were not Catholic, or I guess, or not, that weren’t religious or something like that. And so, you know, they were going to continue the lawsuit and the school district decided to request that it be moved to federal court because it was dealing with First Amendment issues, and any time you deal with civil rights, usually you want to move it to a federal court. Well, I guess the parents decided, hey, you know, that’s going to be dangerous for us because we might get a bad ruling, so they dropped their lawsuit. So then they refiled in September of 2022, tried to get a class action status to include everybody, not just the two Catholic families that were complaining, but all of the families that have their children transported to non-public private schools.

[6:31] But then they still included religious freedom questions, but they applied it to the Ohio Constitution, which has a little bit more strict religious freedom clause in the Ohio Constitution. Constitution. So that’s how it was. And so I’ve been following this thing, and I noticed that they were going to have a preliminary hearing in December. This is September 2022. They were going to have a preliminary hearing by December of 2023, and they were going to have to have the evidence and depositions and everything done by then. And then they were going to have another another hearing in March of this year, 2024. That’s a long time. These lawsuits take a long time. And I’m thinking, are these kids still in school? Is this going to be moot because these kids aren’t in school anymore? But that’s how civil rights cases work sometimes is they take a long for a long time.

[7:43] On the week of March the 19th, there was a ruling issued in this case, finally. This happened on Tuesday, March the 19th, which also happened to be primary day here in Lucas County. Lucas County Judge Stacey Cook ruled that the Sylvania City School District bus transportation plan for students of non-public schools doesn’t violate Ohio law or the Ohio Constitution. Constitution.

[8:12] And one of the questions that was asking was that the parents thought it was unlawful because it violated Ohio law and violated the equal protection and religious freedom clauses of the Ohio Constitution. And in the ruling, the judge stated, the evidence submitted by Plano’s consists of several affidavits by the parties and a non-party spouse. These affidavits recite that they choose Catholic education because of their personal Catholic faith. The affidavits also recite the various inconveniences the plaintiffs and the children face because of the district’s transportation scheme. However, the court finds that plaintiffs have offered no evidence of any coercive effects on their religious practice. There is no evidence that the transportation plan has compelled plaintiffs to do anything forbidden by their religion or that it has caused them to refrain from doing something required by their religion. Plaintiffs have also not offered any evidence that the transportation plan has compelled them to affirm or disavow a belief forbidden or required by their religion.

[9:24] Accordingly, the court finds that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate any coercive effect upon their religious practice. The plaintiffs have therefore failed to show that defendants’ transportation plan violates their right to free exercise of religion under the Ohio Constitution.

[9:43] And so, and that’s when I started initially talking about it, you know, that is one of the arguments, rebuttals that I make. Is just because a little kid has to get up at 5.30 in the morning and ride a bus with teenagers, ew, and get dropped off at a central location, get on another bus, and go to their school doesn’t keep them from being Catholic, doesn’t prevent them from practicing their Catholic faith.

[10:19] You know, it would be different if they had to attend an evangelical Christian church service before they could be taken to their school. Then you would have a problem. But because the judge found, and the evidence also showed, that it did not keep them from being religious, then it did not violate their free exercise of religion. You know, and that’s what a lot of these, some of these conservatives think is that anything that affects their church going or their praying or something is denying them their right to free exercise. And I did kind of, I did kind of blanch when they said that they claimed it caused them to refrain from doing something required by the religion. And that gets into the whole, you know, the website, having a website for same-sex marriages, and that’s supporting same-sex marriage, and that’s against my religion. I disagree with that kind of reasoning, but I can agree with this reasoning that the judge came up with.

[11:36] And so in this case, the Sylvania case, both parties had asked for a summary judgment since the facts in the case weren’t in dispute. You know, the school was saying, yes, we have to transport these kids. And the families were like, yes, they’re doing all this stuff. So usually that makes the case easier because then a judge can rule based on the documentation that they get and the depositions and all that. And it says, in the original lawsuit, the families asked the court for an injunction to order the school to, quote, fix, unquote, the transportation plan. Judge Cook said the court couldn’t do that. It could only rule if the district’s act was lawful and not unconstitutional. Now, it’s kind of a semantic thing, but if Judge Cook had ruled that the plan was unlawful and unconstitutional, then they would order the school to correct it. They wouldn’t tell them how to fix it. They would just say, you need to fix it. That’s usually how the civil rights case works.

[12:46] One of the ideas that the families had suggested was that the school district not transport high school kids to free up buses to transport their kids directly to their private school. And one of the things that the judge pointed out was that a corrective measure shouldn’t harm a third party. And that would harm people who were not involved in this lawsuit if the school district stopped transporting high school students.

[13:20] And as I mentioned before, the original lawsuit was dismissed by the parents on August 30th, 2022. They refiled September 16th, asked for class action status. And as the judge noted in the ruling this month, that the class action was never certified. So they’d asked for class action. I don’t know what the process is for that. I think you have to go and find people and they have to sign on to it and go to the judge and the judge says, yes, this is class action. They never went through that part.

[13:54] Now, what’s also interesting is a lawyer for the family had been a party to the original lawsuit, the one that was dismissed in August of 2022. But because they wanted that guy to be the lawyer for the families, he had to drop out of the lawsuit. And so instead of him being on there with his wife, and I’m assuming that because they said it was a non-party, well, a non-party parent, but he’s the lawyer and he’s a Perrysburg lawyer that has TV commercials occasionally. And so he dropped off the lawsuit. And so they interviewed him in the newspaper article about it. And they said that they were probably going to appeal the ruling. And so this is a very interesting case, and it’s a church and state case, and one that was properly decided this time. And so I just wanted to give everybody a update on the case.

[15:02] Did you know that the program you are listening to now is a podcast and outreach of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie? SHoWLE’s mission is providing a supportive, diverse, local community for humanists and other non-theists, while promoting ethical and reasonable secular worldviews through education, community service, outreach, activism, and social events. For more information about SHoWLE and humanism, check out the website

[15:37] Music.

[15:45] I’ve covered school vouchers previously in different episodes. The major voucher program we have here in Ohio is called EdChoice, which is a weird name. And the last time that it came up was that schools such as Washington local schools, which is near where I live, were losing millions of dollars to voucher students, students who left the district to go to a private school and took the money with them. Because at the time, I don’t know if this might, this is not the case now, but at the time, the education dollars that the state would provide per student, that’s how usually the schools are funded in the state is the state money goes to school districts on a per student basis. Some are a few thousand dollars, some of the higher end income suburban school districts. They’re like $8,000 or $9,000 per student.

[17:00] And so this is money that is allocated based on student population. So if a student left a public school district to go to a private school, that money would leave the public school and be used for the voucher to give to the private school. And so a lot of these school districts that are already financially on the edge because of the underfunding by the state and having to depend on property taxes for funding, they couldn’t afford to lose this kind of money. So they complained, and there was a fix that was done to prevent that. And I think when they decided to expand the voucher program and make it a universal voucher program, they made sure that the public school wasn’t going to lose money. So what’s the problem then, Doug? Why do you hate vouchers? If the schools are not going to lose money, how come you hate vouchers? The premise of a school voucher, at least if you listen to the conservatives that support it or other people that support voucher programs, is that you’re trying to help children in broken public schools, typically urban public schools.

[18:27] To get out of that broken system and into a private school where the education opportunities are going to be better. The theory being that if their education opportunities are better and they learn, then they’ll be less likely to be a burden on the system when they become adults. It’s a good premise. That’s not the only reason why people support vouchers, but that’s That’s what they tell people to try to get voting support for it.

[19:03] It’s still transferring money that could be better spent to fix any broken public schools or to properly fund the public schools that we have than to give it to third-party private schools that aren’t under the same oversight that public schools are. Because public schools have a large oversight apparatus because you have your local school boards that are elected by voters. They watch the schools. Then you have the state because they set curriculum and policies and things like that. They watch it because they’re giving you state money. So they have a say. These private schools, they don’t have any of that. Oh, and teachers unions, You have unions that also operate in public schools so that teachers are treated fairly and paid adequately. You don’t have any of that in a private school system. And it’s not required.

[20:08] And so you’re transferring public tax dollars from from an entity that is has a lot of oversight by the voter to one that does not have any. And and this has happened before. We had this this online school system called ECOT. And they sucked up millions of state tax dollars and had nothing to show for it. And people went to, I believe people went to jail because of the corruption. Because these people that were running this online school would take the money, but they had no student. You know, they couldn’t justify what kind of money that they were spending. Anyway, so last year they passed a law here in Ohio that allowed for universal vouchers. This has been a longtime goal of conservative Christians and conservative political people to have these universal vouchers that didn’t have any strings attached. You could use them anywhere and anyone. You didn’t have to have a certain income.

[21:17] And they called it that the parents could make school choices, their proper school choices. And so they had some people at and some other news organizations looked into it. And they looked into seeing what the effect of the vouchers are on the public schools. And so what they thought that they would see would be a huge increase in the use of vouchers. And then they would see a sizable reduction in population, student populations in the public schools as the people that get the vouchers then would move to private schools. And what they found out was that was not the case. Actually, in the in and they did this, they did this study. They looked at all the school systems in Ohio. Ohio, they found that the vouchers were going up multiple times. Like in one year, one place had like 39 vouchers. And then the next year they had 700 vouchers. And they had maybe 20 people leave. So 700 of those vouchers were going to students who were already in a private school somewhere.

[22:44] A majority of these ed choice vouchers are being scooped up by families already in private schools and david pepper who was formerly in charge of the democ ohio democratic party, has a good article about this on his uh sub stack um and he has some details from these these news reports. For example, Rocky River is an affluent area. Private vouchers went from 16 in February 2023 to 309 this year. The public school student shift was 22 people left.

[23:26] So 309 vouchers were were being used, but only 22 people left the public school. That means that, you know, 200, my math is bad, 290 some odd vouchers are going to students who are already in private school. Bay Village vouchers went from 13 to 229. Public school student shift was 30 people left. All right. Now, here you go. This is going to give you an example. Strongsville, which is a another affluent area. Vouchers went from 61 to 791 vouchers. Public school student shift, Strongsville gained 17 students.

[24:15] So all 791 of those vouchers went to students who were already attending private school.

[24:24] And the other thing that they found out that the vouchers disproportionately were helping people who could already afford to go to private school.

[24:36] The median income, the state’s median income is $41,132.59. And some of these communities that were having these increased voucher uses boasted more than twice the median income. Income. It says communities with less wealth, both rural and urban are seeing little to no voucher growth.

[25:05] So David Pepper also put in some information from Steve Dyer, who analyzed the data, said more new voucher recipients come from families making more than $150,000 a year than families making less than $120,000 a year. There are more new vouchers flowing to subsidize private high school students whose families make as much as $250,000 a year or more than there are flowing to subsidize private high school students whose families make less than half that much. And an astounding $1.3 million of your tax dollars went to subsidize the private school tuitions of families who make more than $250,000 a year.

[25:55] On the regular EdChoice voucher, $242 million of the $272 million sent out to subsidize private school tuition went to families in the highest income brackets. That’s nearly nine out of every $10 going to subsidize private school tuitions to subsidize families who could already afford to send their kids to private schools. schools. Of the 32,236 new applications for EdChoice expansion, which used to be called the income-based voucher but isn’t anymore, a stunning 28,238 went to white students. Nearly 9 in 10 of the 44,839 new vouchers issued this year in all five voucher programs, programs. 33,874 went to white students, about three of every four.

[26:58] Finally, of those small percentage students that did use a voucher to actually switch from public to private, the data has been clear that their scores actually fell precipitously. They are being subsidized to go to worse schools. And so that is why some rural Republicans in Georgia joined with Democrats in shooting down universal vouchers in Georgia, because it wasn’t going to help the rural communities. That need help. And so featured the story on the top of the front page when it first came out. They wrote an editorial.

[27:39] Pepper quotes, lacking conscious targeted efforts to make sure low-income Ohioans and poor-performing schools primarily benefited, Ohio’s EdChoice expansion as implemented was not the school choice program statehouse leaders promised. The data suggests instead it became a big taxpayer subsidies for those students already in private schools. That should outrage every Ohio taxpayer and every parent of students in struggling districts who were supposed to benefit. The editorial board then called on Ohio’s legislature to be true to its stated school choice motive, to rewrite the rules to guarantee that this money goes to children in underperforming schools, rules, possibly relying on state report cards to set the standard. And then Pepper makes the choice, makes the comment that the corrupt and gerrymandered Ohio legislature is being true to its actual goals. It is achieving exactly what it is intending. Many of them say this as directly.

[28:40] So, of course, they’re not going to rewrite the rules. Rules, non-rules are accomplishing their their clear intent. And I agree with it because that was the whole intent was for these rich people to have the state subsidize their kids’ private school tuition. So that’s just one more thing that they don’t have to pay for. They don’t have to pay their proper taxes, and now they don’t have to pay for their kids’ education. And I think that that does a disservice to everyone here in in the state of Ohio. Thank you for listening. For more information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie. Sholi can be reached at Glass City Humanist is hosted, written, and produced by Douglas Berger, and he’s solely responsible for the content. Our theme music is Glass City Jam, composed using the Amplify Studio. See you next time!

[29:57] Music.

Transcript is machine generated, lightly edited, and approximate to what was recorded. If you would like perfect transcripts, please donate to the show.


Written, produced, and edited by Douglas Berger and he is entirely responsible for the content. Incidental voice overs by Shawn Meagley

The GCH theme is “Glass City Jam” composed using Ampify Studio

This episode by Glass City Humanist is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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