By Adam Ulbricht | Watchdog.org
For some parents, education is all about test scores and grades. For others it’s about extracurricular performances like sports, music programs and theater. But for Holli Stevenson it’s about something bigger — community.
The Stevensons moved to Ohio in 2008. Their son, Michael, and daughter, Abigail, were enrolled in an inner city public school in Cincinnati.
It didn’t take long to see her kids weren’t in a very good situation. “They went to school for eight hours a day, but weren’t learning anything,” Stevenson said.
EDCHOICE: Michael Stevenson was going to drop out of school before a scholarship changed his life
The lack of options in public schools led Stevenson to pull her kids out of public school and opt to homeschool them instead. At one point, the Stevensons were considering moving out of Cincinnati and into the suburbs, but both kids wanted to stay in the area.
Then Stevenson came across the EDChoice Scholarship Program. The scholarship provides families with $4,250 for kindergarten through eighth grade, and $5,000 for students in grades nine through twelve. The funds can be used to attend certain private schools that meet the state’s criteria.
The program allowed the Stevensons to find a school that better fit the needs of their kids. Both Michael and Abigail were able to find a home at the Cincinnati Waldorf School, keeping them in the community.
Within a year, the changes in the kids’ performance were like night and day. “My son was counting down the days before he quit school,” Holli Stevenson said. “After switching schools, he wanted to be there. He wants to go to school.”
Stevenson credits the Waldorf School for Abigail’s newfound success. “She went from well behind to above average. The school teaches the whole child, not just a specific program. The smaller classes help her because nothing was sticking before,” Stevenson said.
After just one year at Waldorf, Michael earned a separate academic scholarship to attend Elder High School, an all-male Catholic school.
Stevenson said none of this would have been possible had the school choice scholarship not been available to families like hers. “Without EDChoice, my kids couldn’t go to a private school. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”
But to Stevenson, who works and volunteers in the inner city, keeping her kids within an area they love was even more important. “It’s really about community, not just standards,” she said. “We’re keeping the money here, and we’re helping to bring about change.”
EDCHOICE: Abigail Stevenson was falling behind in public school, but soon found herself after receiving a voucher
That sentiment is also shared by Sarah Pechan Driver, senior director of programs at School Choice Ohio. “Parents need to have barriers taken down on zip codes, income and disability,” Driver said. “These types of scholarships address all three and contribute to better neighborhoods.”
The EDChoice Scholarship is not the only such program available in Ohio.
Since the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program began in 1996, the state has created an additional four scholarship programs. Just last year the Ohio Legislature added the newest income-based scholarship for kindergartners.
The 2013-2014 school year is also marking a big year for the scholarship programs. According to data from School Choice Ohio, more than 31,000 students are currently receiving a voucher to attend a school of their choice. That number is more than 4,600 higher than last year’s total, making it the biggest usage jump in the history of Ohio school vouchers.
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