December 18, 2014

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Lorain Schools officials hope realignment will improve academics, attendance, reduce voucher eligibility

LORAIN — The main goal of a proposed Lorain Schools realignment is to improve academics, but it could also increase attendance.

Voucher eligibility for parochial and private schools is tied to each school’s state performance rating.

“Depending on how the realignment works, the school’s overall rating may improve so much that it would no longer be eligible for the voucher program for students who do not currently have a voucher,” John Charlton, Ohio Department of Education spokesman, wrote in a Monday email.

Ohio’s EdChoice program allows voucher eligibility if students attend a school judged “underperforming” by state ratings and if the student’s family is at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

For a family of four in 2013, the threshold was $47,100.

Up to 60,000 students use vouchers in Ohio, costing taxpayers $65 million annually, according to the department. Proponents say vouchers provide parents with more choice and force public schools to improve by increasing competition. Opponents say it’s unfair to spend public money on private and religious schools and that vouchers underfund public schools.

This school year, 533 students are using vouchers in Lorain to attend parochial schools, according to the department. The annual cost of vouchers spent in Lorain County is about $3 million.

Superintendent Tom Tucker said the realignment, designed to improve academics by equalizing class sizes and increasing teacher coordination, may be voted on by the Board of Education in April. The plan would eliminate 10 to 12 teaching positions through attrition, which Tucker said would allow the district to bring back art and musical programs eliminated in 2012 due to budget cuts.

Under the realignment, there would be five preschool through second-grade schools and five third- through fifth-grade schools. There would be three sixth- through eighth-grade middle schools.

The district operates 10 elementary schools, which are preschool or kindergarten through sixth grade. There are two seventh- and eighth-grade middle schools, the Lorain High School annex, which houses ninth-graders, and the temporary Lorain High School for 10th- through 12th-graders. A new high school is scheduled to open for the 2016-17 school year.

If approved, the change would be implemented in the 2014-15 school. If ratings improve, vouchers could be reduced in the 2015-16 school year.

Lorain — taken over by a state Academic Distress Commission in April due to four years of low test scores — has about 7,000 students down from 10,000 a decade ago. By improving academics, Lorain hopes to boost attendance. Tucker said if voucher eligibility decreases due to better academics, “that is a huge, huge benefit.”

At nearly $829,000, St. Peter School in Lorain receives the most voucher money in the county. St. Peter spokeswoman Marlene Karpinski said a performance increase by Lorain wouldn’t have a “tremendous” effect on St. Peter enrollment.

Karpinski said St. Peter urges parishioners to vote for Lorain Schools’ levies and hopes the school district’s academics improve.

“We’re all invested in the same thing and that’s the youth of Lorain,” she said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

School vouchers

A total of 563 students are using school vouchers in the Lorain Schools district to attend parochial schools in the 2013-14 school year.

  • Kindergarten: 85
  • First grade: 74
  • Second grade: 66
  • Third grade: 64
  • Fourth grade: 50
  • Fifth grade: 33
  • Sixth grade: 41
  • Seventh grade: 41
  • Eighth grade: 32
  • Ninth grade: 26
  • 10th grade: 18
  • 11th grade: 19
  • 12th grade: 14

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education