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Group wants Ohio’s $700M special fund to help private, charter schools grow

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(The Center Square) – One group wants state lawmakers to spend part of a $700 million fund of taxpayer money to help charter and private schools expand capacity.

As school choice grows across the state, The Buckeye Institute believes the state should use some of the One-Time Strategic Community Investment Fund created in the current budget to offer a permanent revolving loan fund to increase classroom space.

The $700 million community fund came from excess cash the state had on hand June 30 at the end of the previous fiscal year. Its availability comes when lawmakers are taking requests for the Capital Budget. However, legislation that created the fund did not contain specific uses for the money.

The idea outlined by the General Assembly during last year’s budget process included infrastructure projects, economic development projects, quality of life projects, community safety projects and other art, cultural, environmental and health and human services projects.

Money from the fund can be used for one-time projects not expected to have ongoing costs.

Greg Lawson, research fellow at The Buckeye Institute, thinks creating a revolving loan fund to grow student capacity at private and charter schools is a vital need.

“A students-first, universal school choice approach was right for Ohio, but classroom capacity is now a legitimate and growing concern given the high demand for EdChoice scholarships, especially in economically disadvantaged and rural portions of the state,” Lawson wrote in a policy memo.

Traditional public schools can access the $11 billion Classroom Facilities Assistant Program to help with additional classrooms or new schools. Private and charter schools do not have access to those taxpayer funds.

“The One-Time Strategic Community Investments Fund cannot pay for ongoing expenses, so an appropriation should establish a revolving loan fund that may also legally accept private capital to augment money available to public charter schools and private schools accepting EdChoice scholarships,” Lawson wrote. “Creating a loan fund would allow these various education providers to apply for low- or no-interest loans for construction and other capital expenses that would help them serve more students.”

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