House Bill 136, the school voucher legislation that is garnering Representative Matt Huffman (R) the most attention he has ever received, is not Huffman’s legislation. Ohioans have speculated a lot this year about the true authors of the Republican legislation (see Shannon Jones & Senate Bill 5), but rarely have we been able to identify language that is so clearly written by another organization with little to no creative editing by the legislator.  In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if Huffman merely gave the sample legislation to the LSC and instructed them to make sure it says Ohio in it a few times.

Here’s how we described ALEC a few months ago:

Not familiar with ALEC? Well, lets just say that they make shady dudes like Karl Rove look like centrists. ALEC is an organization that exists solely to be a backdoor way for corporations to give state legislators model pieces of legislation that corporations support. Right now on-line there are over 800 pieces of legislation that ALEC have given to state legislators that range from destroy public unions rights to exist, repealing Obama Care, suppressing voters rights, curtailing abortion rights, denouncing the existence of climate change, and deregulating public utilities. The list goes on and on. Just pretty much pick any progressive issue and there is a bill trying to destroy it.

The Nation’s John Nichols opened a well-written series on the Koch Brothers’ connection to ALEC in a series titled ALEC Exposed.

Enter School Choice Ohio Inc., the not-so-local organization that crowned Huffman a “School Choice Champion” certainly has a reason to praise him for his work – they can take credit for hooking him up with the legislation.  Available through their School Choice Yearbook:

Lawmakers interested in drafting legislation to support school choice should review model legislation on the Alliance for School Choice Web site, www.AllianceForSchoolChoice.orgEach bill is approved by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and supported by the Alliance for School Choice, the Milton and Rose D.  Friedman Foundation, and the Institute for Justice.

Directly below that excerpt in the document is a list of different school choice bills that are available.  Sadly, it’s not difficult to identify the one Ohio’s state representative selected.  Not only did Huffman not care to earn his pay by changing the text of the bill, he wouldn’t even bothered by coming up with an original title.

Huffman’s voucher program: Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings Scholarship Program (LSC analysis of original HB136)

ALEC voucher program: The Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act (ALEC template)

To get the full effect of just how identical the legislation is, you have to line them up side by side and follow along with the sections.  To save you some of that pain, we’ve listed the commonalities:

  • Income eligibility guideline
  • Student eligibility (attends public school in prior year)
  • Income-based voucher tiers
  • Scholarship paid to parent/guardian, not directly to private school
  • Student counts as enrolled in public school for state funding calculation
  • Any aid the school district would have received for the student in excess of the funds needed for a scholarship will be kept by the state.
  • Participating private schools must participate in all applicable state testing (and report results)
  • Takes effect beginning the next school year

The more fascinating language can be found in the user notes at the end of the document:

…if a state already has a broad array of school choice options available to parents, then a state may be able to add an option for just private schools without encountering constitutional questions.

Originally Huffman was rolling the existing voucher programs (Autism, EdChoice) into this bill, but changed it to become an add-on program after the number of low-income EdChoice vouchers was increase four-fold in Governor Kasich’s budget.

The authors believe that all children should receive public support for their education regardless of whether they attend a public or private school, whether they are just starting school, or have already dropped out. Please note that this inclusive definition will significantly increase the number of students in your state receiving public support for their education and thereby either increase the costs to taxpayers or reduce the level of assistance available to support each student. Legislators wishing to draft a bill that saves money will want to limit eligibility largely to students who attended a public school in the last year.

We’re not the only ones who have criticized the massive funding flaws of Huffman’s legislation.  Superintendents, board members, and school treasurers all over Ohio have spoken out about the loss of funding to public schools if this legislation is implemented.  The end note clearly points out this fact that Huffman ignored as he included the option to roll in existing private school students.

The bill has been drafted so that any savings in the cost of educating a student shall accrue to the state. School choice legislation drafted in this manner has the political advantage of either reducing state expenditures or making more funds available for other public schools. Legislators should know that some local school districts will claim that because the state is capturing the savings the program is “draining resources” away from public schools.

Again, Huffman’s guiding legislation nailed it (we’re guessing he didn’t read it carefully before passing it along).  School districts all over Ohio are out in full force in opposition to HB136, with many Boards of Education even adoption resolutions against the bill.

Too bad for Huffman that he horribly miscalculated the political DIS-advantage of introducing this legislation during 2011, the year of Senate Bill 5, Teach for America, and Kasich’s budget bill’s attacks on teachers and school district funding (cut $764 million much?).  With Senate Bill 5, Kasich’s Republicans tried to drive a wedge between teachers and school administration.  With House Bill 136, Huffman has provided the incentive for these groups to band together to battle another Republican assault.

Thanks, Matt.