COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio House approved an $88 billion state budget Wednesday with bipartisan support, sending it to the Senate after a tense session where some lawmakers in the House’s fractured Republican supermajority were blocked from trying to add a universal school voucher proposal and other changes.
Ohioans could see nearly $1 billion in tax savings, increased eligibility for those vouchers to help kids attend private school, and higher wages for some teachers and health care workers under the two-year funding proposal, which lawmakers must work together to pass by June 30.
House Speaker Jason Stephens ignored repeated calls for consideration of possible amendments from fellow Republicans who have opposed him being speaker instead of Rep. Derek Merrin, of Monclova.
Those unconsidered amendments included phasing in a universal voucher provision known as the “backpack bill” and repealing subsidies for coal plants that was once part of an energy bill at the center of a huge state corruption scandal, said Merrin.
The would-be amendments also included a ban on transgender girls participating in girls’ sports at K-12 schools as well as at the collegiate level, said GOP Rep. Jena Powell, the sponsor for a House bill on the subject.
It made for an unusual end to the House budget process, which is usually ripe with debate. Stephens refused to comment on his decision not to recognize lawmakers, but said he was pleased to have a budget that was “balanced” and created for “everyday Ohioans.”
The budget has changed significantly since Republican Gov. Mike DeWine outlined his proposals in January. House legislators nixed a ban on flavored tobacco products; a $5,000 scholarship incentive for high school students in the top 5% of their classes to attend in-state universities; making failure to wear a seatbelt a primary offense; and the creation of the State of Ohio Action Resiliency network to study Ohioans’ mental health. They also reduced the proposed funding for getting large sites ready for economic development and removed a proposed $2,500 child tax deduction.
The House’s biggest adjustments to DeWine’s budget proposal included nearly $1 billion in income tax savings, according to a spokesperson for the GOP-majority. Republicans say the measure is aimed at helping the middle class.
Anticipating crowds flocking to witness the 2024 total solar eclipse, legislators allotted $1 million for security expenses related to that event.
They also included changes impacting funding for public and private education.
The House version would continue efforts to put a fairer, more reliable school funding formula in place, factoring in updated costs for things like teacher salaries and technology needs. This adds another $1 billion-plus to the state’s education allocations for the next two fiscal years — a win for Democrats, who have been touting increased public school funding as a priority all through the budget process.
Additionally, legislators upped eligibility for private school vouchers through the state’s EdChoice scholarship program. The governor proposed expanding eligibility to those at up to 400% of the federal poverty level, or $111,000 for a family of four, while the House plan sets that at 450%, or $135,000 for a family of four.
The House proposal would require the Ohio Department of Education to conduct a performance comparison study between children at public schools and children participating in EdChoice.
The measure also would raise the minimum base salary for teachers from $30,000 to $40,000.
In-home health care workers providing services through Medicaid could also see a wage increase from $16 an hour to $18 an hour under the proposal.
It also bans TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps from state computers and other electronic devices, in line with DeWine’s earlier executive order on the subject and a bill passed by U.S. Congress earlier this year.
And the House added a provision aimed at helping survivors of sexual assault and other “sexually oriented” offenses get more access to the information obtained from a rape kit, such as whether DNA was found and whether that DNA matches someone in a state or federal database.
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.