If you’ve been reading Plunderbund over the past few weeks then you should be familiar with House Bill 136 by now.

Greg has done a great job covering this bill which, in its latest incarnation, seeks to give a $5,893 voucher redeemable at any participating private school in Ohio to any child whose family has an adjusted gross income of $95,000 or less.

The current version of the bill will leave the existing voucher system (EdChoice) in place and add a new, means-tested, ALEC-inspired system into the mix. Students will be allowed to move from the old system to the new system at will.

The existing EdChoice voucher program was recently expanded by Kasich with the goal of eventually giving away 60,000 tuition vouchers to students who currently attend a public school that has been rated in Academic Emergency or Academic Watch. The new system under HB136 would effectively remove that cap, along with the school rating restriction, allowing any student at any school to receive a voucher as long as their parents don’t exceed the income limit.

Advocates for this bill – and for any voucher program – will tell you it gives parents and students more choices. In reality, the choices are severely limited when it comes to getting a subsidized private school education in Ohio.

A review of Ohio’s existing school voucher program (EdChoice) reveals that, for most students, the only private schools available are religious schools – primarily Catholic.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, 322 private schools currently participate in the EdChoice voucher program. Plunderbund’s initial analysis reveals that 93% of these schools have a religious affiliation.**

Of Ohio’s 88 counties, only 39 counties have private schools that accept EdChoice vouchers.

Of those, only 14 counties have private schools with no religious affiliation.

And of these, only 3 serve high school students. These three schools are shown on the map below.

If you are a high school student in Ohio and you want to use your EdChoice voucher for a secular private school, you have 3 schools to choose from. And if you don’t live in Trumbull, Lorain or Clark county, then you’re pretty much out of luck.

The majority of the state’s students live MUCH too far away from these three schools to get a bus ride every morning. Not that it matters though. The schools only had 463 high school students enroll this year. Compare that to the 590,043 Ohio public and charter school students in grades 9-12 in 2010-2011 and you’ll realize that less than .2% of Ohio’s kids would have the opportunity to attend a non-religious high school using a voucher even if they did happen to live within driving range.

That doesn’t sounds like much of a choice.

And that’s intentional. Despite what Ohio’s Republicans say, Ohio’s voucher system has nothing to do with school choice.

Advocates for the expansion of vouchers in Ohio want you to believe there are thousands of underprivileged kids yearning to escape their local schools. But that just isn’t true.

Even with more EdChoice vouchers available this year, the demand didn’t go up much. After Kasich doubled the availability to 30K, only about 16,000 people had applied in total by the August deadline.

Demand for existing EdChoice vouchers peaked at a much lower level than voucher advocates would have liked. This might explain why they are moving forward with such a horrible piece of legislation.

HB136 will likely increase the number of vouchers being used in the state, however the new demand won’t come from new students looking for a “choice”. It will come from the parents of existing private school students who will now be able to take advantage of vouchers to cover their current tuition payments. Most likely these students will already be attending one of the hundreds of religious schools in Ohio. And now they’ll be able to do it for free.

HB136 is not about school choice.

Students at poorly performing schools already have access to all the vouchers they need to change schools if they want. HB136 is about redirecting state dollars to pay for private school education which is almost exclusively provided by religious schools in Ohio.

Given the current selection of available private schools, the expansion of vouchers under HB136 will merely give current private school students to ability to fund their education with state dollars at the expense of their local districts without providing any more opportunity to students in poorly performing districts.

But as we’ll talk about very soon, this bill could also open the door for the creation of new, poorly performing, unsupervised and poorly-regulated private schools throughout Ohio that will drain even more valuable resources away from Ohio’s public schools.

** Religious affiliation was identified through direct contact to the schools, a review of the school websites and, in many cases, based on the school names. For example, 20 schools contain the word Catholic in the school name, 14 contain the word Bishop, Archbishop or Cardinal. 100 schools contain the word Saint in their name and 66 schools contain the word Christian. Schools without obviously religious names were individually researched primarily by reviewing their websites but in certain cases through calls to the schools themselves. Islamic and Jewish schools are also included in the list. Complete list with added classification information is is available here.