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Backpack Scholarship Program Bill Draws Significant Support at Statehouse

March 15, 2023
Riordan T. McClain News

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State Reps. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) and Marilyn John (R-Richland County) had their Backpack Scholarship Program bill up for a second hearing at the Statehouse this week, which drew support from dozens of students and advocates throughout the state during committee testimony.

“I mostly grew up in the inner city surrounded by poverty, crime, and low expectations. I was in a different school almost every single year, and teachers would often write me off before I even stepped foot in the school,” said Walter Blanks Jr., a Columbus native working with the American Federation for Children. “School choice gave me an opportunity to live a better life. I support HB 11 and truly believe it will have a positive impact on students as well as the entire state of Ohio.”

As joint sponsors on the bill, McClain and John were very pleased with the turnout that came to Columbus to make their voices heard.

“Thank you all so much for being here on what I perceive as a historic day,” said John. “This is the first time that your voices get to be heard in the Statehouse, regarding House Bill 11. Thank you to our colleagues who came here today to show their support. Thank you to the parents, the advocates, but most importantly, thank you to the students, because their faces really are the face of the bill.”

The two representatives held a press conference before the committee hearing to give some background on the legislation.

“The Backpack Scholarship Program would empower families to find the best educational environment for their child,” said McClain. “As a father of five, I know how different the needs of each child can be and by giving each child the opportunity to pursue the best path will lead to better outcomes. Education is not a one size fits all model. This program recognizes that and allows educational freedom as well as competition. Parental involvement is one of the most important aspects of a child's education regardless of learning environment.”

The bill establishes the program to provide eligible students with an educational savings account (ESA) beginning in the 2024-2025 school year for those enrolling in K-12 nonpublic schools or receiving home education. The program will allow a student’s parent to apply, which could result in them receiving $5,500 for grades K-8, or $7,500 for grades 9-12. 

During testimony, it was noted that the legislation is important as other states have begun or are looking into implementing their own similar program, including West Virginia, Arizona, Iowa, Utah, Texas, and Arkansas.

“HB 11 is the next logical step in Ohio’s arc toward creating a school choice climate on par with the aforementioned states and continuing to compete with them to remain an attractive home base for businesses and families,” said Donovan O’Neil with Americans for Prosperity.

Currently, the Backpack Scholarship Program bill has nearly 30 cosponsors in the Ohio House and awaits further consideration in the Primary and Secondary Education Committee.

The full press conference can be watched here.