In a press conference this week, State Rep. Matt Huffman suggested dramatic alterations to the components of his school voucher proposal, House Bill 136.  The changes are so significant, in fact, that he even stated that he believes that the bill will should be re-introduced as new legislation instead of trying to revamp HB136 after it has already passed the House Education Committee. At the Monday press conference, Huffman stated:

These are significant changes to this program.  I don’t think that it’s appropriate to simply try to do this as a floor amendment to the bill.  I’m working with a couple folks on the other side of the aisle towards essentially restarting this process.  So we may do this as a separate bill and that’s probably the most appropriate way to do it.

Essentially, Huffman got his ass handed to him by the 300+ public school districts that have adopted resolutions in opposition to his bill and has been forced to rapidly back off from pushing this legislation any further.  While many might rejoice at this apparent victory, we find ourselves cautious of the future legislation and bitterly disappointed that even in his revisions Huffman continues peddling misdirection and blatant factual errors.

Huffman offered five key changes:

  1. Voucher would be limited to the amount of state aid per pupil spending by a district.
  2. Local district keeps all excess funds.
  3. Number of vouchers limited to 1% of district enrollment.
  4. Voucher eligibility tied to Medicaid S-CHIP eligibility.
  5. Elimination of Educational Savings Account provision.

Huffman Can’t Be Believed

The first change that limits the amount of state aid to per pupil spending by a district is the first foundational error in Huffman’s proposition.  In HB136, the funding amount was inflated but was definitively calculated on a district’s per pupil funding by the state, not spending.  Since a calculation of “state aid per pupil spending by a district” doesn’t exist, we figure this was a mistake, albeit an important flub for the sponsor of this bill and member of the House Education Committee.  HOWEVER…. Huffman explains that the problem with the voucher deduction amount being greater than the voucher in HB136 can be blamed on a change that occurred after House Bill 153 (state budget) was enacted.  Huffman stated that the change in the school funding formula altered the interpretation of the voucher funding formula.  We were almost ready to take him at his word if not for legislative documents that suggest otherwise. The funding component that Huffman is referring to first appeared in a Fiscal Note released by the Legislative Service Commission on June 10, 2011 (excerpt below).

This information conflicts with Huffman’s blaming of HB153 (that he voted for) since the budget wasn’t finalized until after weeks after this date as shown:

Mistake or spin? Huffman’s second deceptive offering is his use of the 1% of enrollment number as a means to placate districts worried a disproportionate decline in enrollment.  Huffman does not elaborate on this figure during his presentation to explain whether it is calculated annually to accommodate the phase-in of existing private school students.  The inclusion of these students in a district’s student membership will artificially inflate the total enrollment and increase the number of vouchers available to students in that district. And finally, Huffman’s biggest miscue came when he discussed the change to the income cap as it relates to voucher eligibility.  In his recommended changes, Huffman spoke about linking voucher eligibility to a student’s Medicaid S-CHIP eligibility, a federally-connected program that is already in place statewide, thus streamlining the collection of data. According to Huffman, who overheard a reporter mention it at the press conference, SCHIP eligibility is 300% of the federal poverty level, or $67,050 a year.  Reports from around the state confirmed Huffman’s dispersal of this information:

Under Huffman’s latest proposal, vouchers would be available to families with household incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $67,050 a year for a family of four. (Marietta Times)

Rep. Huffman also mentioned several other changes that would be improvements over his original bill. The eligibility family income threshold would be reduced from $95,000 per year to about $67,000 a year for a family of four, or 300% of the poverty level. (Innovation Ohio)

Under the proposal Huffman outlined yesterday, vouchers would be available to families in any school district with household incomes up to 300?percent of the federal poverty level — $67,050 a year for a family of four. (Columbus Dispatch)

Applicants also would have to meet income eligibility requirements — about 300 percent of federal poverty guidelines, or about $66,000 for a family of four. (Dix Capital Bureau)

The message of this proposed change in eligibility has certainly been consistent, but it is also inaccurate.

In Ohio, the Department of Job and Family Services administers the SCHIP program and they report that eligibility is based on a family income up to 200% of the federal poverty limit:

We are [not] shocked – a Republican making up his own version of the facts about his legislation.

Seriously, is it unreasonable to ask that our legislators have a minimum of say, 50% of their facts correct before holding a press conference?  Regardless of the purported improvements to the voucher program, how can anyone believe the spoken words of Huffman, the Majority Floor Leader, when he spews such distorted details?