Tuition aid for home buyers?

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Schools and crime send many urban dwellers to the suburbs. Attempting to reverse that trend, a Republican state legislator from Hilliard is pushing legislation that would give qualifying home buyers in blighted areas of Columbus and seven other Ohio cities vouchers to send their children to private schools and allow the families to hire private security for the neighborhood.

"I have lots of friends who moved to German Village, got married, and the first kid comes along, and boom, they move to the suburbs," said Rep. Larry Wolpert, who has dubbed House Bill 26 the "Urban Homestead Bill." "It's crime and education. Those are the two reasons they leave."

Some education groups oppose the proposal. What Wolpert sees as an effort to revitalize Ohio's urban centers, critics complain represents another effort to undermine public schools by using tax dollars to send students to private schools.

"House Bill 26 takes a counterproductive approach to urban revitalization by seeking to help cities at the expense of public schools," said Matthew Dotson of the Ohio Education Association, the state's largest teachers union and a leading opponent of voucher programs.

"It is not in the state's interest to encourage the existence of school districts serving large segments of poor and disadvantaged children while at the same time expending large public subsidies to send their wealthier neighbors to private schools."

The intent of Ohio's $10.4 million voucher program, educators note, has been to give low-income children in poor-performing schools the opportunity to attend a private school.

Wolpert said it's difficult to tackle urban blight and revitalization without addressing schools. "This is not a voucher bill; it's a bill to revitalize our urban core," he said.

The population of Ohio's big cities has been declining for decades. Twenty-two percent of Ohioans live in urban centers. A revised version of the bill, under review in a House committee, would allow city residents to create an "urban homestead zone" where residents have spent at least $120,000 to buy a house or at least $40,000 to renovate one.

Part of their property taxes would finance the private-school vouchers. Families living in the zone also would have the opportunity to assess themselves for security beyond the local police force. If a property is resold, the new owners also would qualify for vouchers.

Wolpert said that unlike other efforts to build lofts and other Downtown housing best suited for singles and childless couples, his plan is intended to help families with youngsters.

About 6,500 Ohio students attend private schools with tax-funded vouchers, receiving as much as $5,100 a year for tuition.