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$1 billion price tag for 'Backpack Bill' divides homeschooling parents, public education leaders

Ohio House Bill 11, currently in committee, would offer school vouchers to every Ohio student in public school.

TOLEDO, Ohio — A new proposal in the Ohio House of Representatives, the "Backpack Bill," would offer school choice vouchers to every student in every public school across the state. 

Currently, Ohio only offers vouchers to kids in certain districts.

The Ohio Legislative Service Commission said if HB 11 is made law, the plan could cost the state over $1 billion per year.

It's a price tag that has some people in Lucas County divided.

Monica Vernot, a Holland mother of three who has been homeschooling her kids for the last four years, said the bill would be a huge benefit for her family, which she said has already seen success through homeschooling.

"I have one child who excels at math and we were able to push him a couple of grades ahead of where he would be in a traditional school," Vernot said. "And I have another child who's a little slow in English and I can meet his needs on a more personal basis."

Homeschooling is not financially viable for every family, though. Textbooks and lesson plans come with a hefty out-of-pocket cost.

"I would estimate probably about $1000 dollars a year just to pay for my curriculum, and then private lessons, private tutoring," Vernot said.

But the Backpack Bill could change that, she said.

"It empowers parents to give their children what they feel they need," Vernot said. "And those needs might not be assessed at a traditional school."

However, Toledo Public Schools board member Christine Varwig said the bill's cost is roughly one-ninth of the entire state's public education budget for the year and would only benefit a fraction of the students.

"1.6 million students for $9 billion. This is $1.1 billion for under 100,000 students. Do the math," Varwig said.

Varwig also it would also take away tax dollars from public education, hurting the majority while benefiting a small group.

"We still have buildings we're going to keep open, we have lights and staff to pay," Varwig said. "Take that $1.1 billion and invest in public schools."

HB 11 is currently in committee and has yet to be passed by the house or senate. It currently is the third voucher bill that has been proposed in Ohio in the last few years.

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