This could be the last school year Ohio parents can apply for education vouchers based on the performance of their local schools if a bill passed by the House on Wednesday becomes law.

"Performance-based vouchers are over with," proclaimed House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford.

The bill, which passed 88-7, would immediately eliminate the EdChoice program, which awards $4,600 annually for K-8 vouchers and $6,000 for high school vouchers based on how a school ranks on Ohio‘s school report cards.

But while the legislature continues to debate and amend the bill, school district officials are left in somewhat of a limbo when it comes to preparing the required five-year forecast, as well as parents wanting to register their students.

And while some districts have been projecting the financial hit they would take if the EdChoice program stays put, Tallmadge district treasurer Jeff Hostettler says all the indecision makes it pointless at this time to come up with figures.

"How are you going to know how many kids are going to leave?" he said. Plus the state had talked about funding the program, but he said no one knows if that will be for all or part of it.

"Until something is decided, I don’t try to figure it out," he added.

As the bill stands now, both Munroe Elementary and Dunbar Primary schools would be included in the EdChoice program. Munroe received an overall grade of C in the 2018-19 state report cards; Dunbar earned a B. The school district overall was given a C.

However, they do not tell the entire story, Shelley Monachino, director of teaching and learning, said.

"The report card is just a one-time snapshot of student progress, and we look at the data from that as well as our other tools and assessments throughout the year to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our students," Monachino noted last fall when the report cards were released. "Of course when looking at the data, we not only look at what we are improving on, but what we can do better."

And Hostettler said what schools would qualify based on state report cards could still change. "We have buildings that are determined to be failing when in fact they are not . . . We believe we provide a good education."

With the new bill, the state would replace the EdChoice program with Buckeye Opportunity Scholarships, an income-based program that‘s funded entirely by the state and puts the poorest kids at the front of the line.

Students who currently get performance-based vouchers would continue to receive them, and certain school-age siblings could apply. But for everyone else in Ohio, the EdChoice Scholarship program would be over.

Buckeye scholarships would be fully funded up to 250% of the federal poverty level (a little more than $65,000 annually for a family of four) and partially funded at 300% if there was enough money.

"If we can get this through ... I think this changes the game," Householder said after the vote. "It gives us the opportunity to meet with stakeholders in education and have honest discussions about kids and their education and not who is going to get this almighty dollar."

Republicans and Democrats agree that the grading system Ohio uses to determined performance-based voucher doesn‘t reflect how well a school is educating its students, and it needs to be fixed.

"This is one step in the process,," Rep. Phil Robinson, D-Solon, said. "We still have a broken report card system, we still need to fix our testing system and we still need to address school funding."

The Senate, however, has a different plan.

The Senate passed a bipartisan bill last week that would have kept the EdChoice Scholarship program but cut the list of eligible schools from 1,227 (the original number for the 2020-2021 school year) to 425. That measure also would increase the income-based voucher limit to 300% of the poverty level and allocate $30 million for school districts hit hard by last year‘s voucher expansion.

For example, the Cleveland Heights/?University Heights school district told its community that its asking for a levy increase in March because it paying millions more than expected in vouchers.

The House balked at Senate‘s plan, resulting in a last-minute compromise to push the start of EdChoice applications from Feb. 1 to April 1.

That sparked a lawsuit from a group of parents, private schools and school choice advocates. They‘ve asked the Ohio Supreme Court to block that 60-day delay and let students apply for vouchers based on that original list of 1,227 buildings.

Senate Republicans intended to vote down the House‘s plan Wednesday night, but they couldn’t do that because of a technicality. The House left without officially sending it to them.

"Well it would have been nice to walk it over from one side of the building to the other," Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said. "But you play the hand your dealt, and we will deal with this when it eventually makes its way over here."

Tallmadge Express Editor Marsha McKenna contributed to this report.