LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Afterschool Child Enrichment (ACE) Savings Account Program
Last summer CHEO provided a description of a temporary funding source made available from the federal government’s “Coronavirus School Relief” package. Ohio’s state budget (HB 110) set up the program requirements for 2 fiscal years.
Details under Ohio law (HB 110):
$500 per eligible student per fiscal year.
Funds are dispersed on a first come, first served basis. When the funds run out, the program is terminated.
An “eligible student” must meet all following conditions:
• Age 6-18
• Have a family income that is below 300% of federal poverty guidelines (see info below)
• Be enrolled in a public or nonpublic school or home educated (excused from the compulsory attendance law for the purpose of home instruction)
Money can be used for (secular or nonsecular):
• Before or after school educational programs
• Day camps, including camps for academics, music, and arts
• Tuition at learning extension centers or learning pods
• Purchase of curriculum and materials (home educated students only)
• Educational, learning, or study skills services
• Field trips to historical landmarks, museums, science centers, and theaters (includes admission, exhibit, and program fees)
• Language classes
• Instrument lessons
Funds may not be used for the purchase of electronic devices.
How this program will be set up and function under requirements in state law:
1. The ODE was required to adopt emergency rules that prescribe the procedures for setting up the ACE account at the request of the parent or guardian of the student.
2. ACE accounts shall be set up through the Ohio Department of Education on a first come first served basis according to availability of funds.
3. The ODE was required to contract with a vendor to administer the accounts giving preference to vendors who use a smart phone application that is capable of scanning receipts and provides a customer service number for parents who have technical issues.
4. The vendor is required to monitor how the money is spent and recoup money used for purposes not authorized. They will also provide a list to the ODE of purchases made with the accounts.
5. If a parent requests an account and the funds are available, the account shall be front loaded with $500 within 14 days of the request and that money shall be used no later than the following June 30.
Source of funds: Appropriation #200-640 Federal Coronavirus School Relief:
FY2022 (July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022): $50 million (At $500 per student, this means a max of 100,000 students.)
FY2023 (July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023): $75 million (At $500 per student, this means a max of 150,000 students.)
If the first $50 million is not completely spent, it will be re-appropriated for FY2023 (added to the $75 million the following year).
Family income is 300% of the federal poverty guidelines.
Family of 4 – $79,500 Family of 6 – $106,740 Family of 8 – $133,980
Family of 5 – $93,120 Family of 7 – $120,360
Link to HB110: https://searchprod.lis.state.oh.us/solarapi/v1/general_assembly_134/bills/hb110/EN/07/hb110_07_EN?format=pdf
Remember – new language is underlined.
CHEO communicated last year that it would be important to review any contractual agreements with the
State’s vendor for us to understand more completely what is being offered and assist families in understanding
the program. Ohio’s contract for the administration of the ACE accounts received final approval this week and we have reviewed the details, as outlined below.
Details in Agreement for Services – Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and Merit International, Inc.
Merit International will be responsible for:
1. Monitoring how ACE savings accounts are used by parents or guardians
2. Attempting to recoup funds that are used for purposes that are not authorized (as determined by Merit International)
3. Provide the ODE with a comprehensive list of purchases made with ACE educational savings accounts
The Ohio Department of Education will assist Merit International in establishing criteria to facilitate approval of vendors to provide services for which ACE account funds are used. Subject to Ohio Public Records Laws, any of Merit’s information, materials, systems and/or records accessed or provided in connection with a request from the ODE to assist the Department’s reporting or audit will be treated as confidential information.
Merit International must comply with state and federal privacy laws.
• “Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to allow either party to maintain, use, disclose, or share student information in a manner not allowed by either state or federal laws or regulations.” (Agreement, p. 5)
• “No party shall, without the prior written approval of the other party, directly or indirectly, disclose confidential information to any person or business entity except its own employees and representatives, including attorneys, on a need-to-know basis.” (Agreement, p. 5-6)
CAUTION: The parties described here are the ODE and Merit. There is no specific provision that requires prior written approval of a parent/guardian.
CAUTION: Ohio law has a loophole in its protection of student information. The (EMIS) guidelines shall prohibit the reporting of any personally identifiable information about any student to any other person unless such person is employed by the school district or the information technology center and is authorized by the district or technology center to have access to the information. RC 3301.0714(D)(1) Again, there is no requirement for prior written approval of a parent/guardian.
To request an ACE account, the parents or guardians will submit information and documentation to the ODE to verify income eligibility. (e.g., pay stubs or tax documents) Once the ODE determines that the family income is under 300% of the federal poverty level, Merit will be notified to establish an ACE account for that student within 14 days.
Merit will pre-qualify providers of materials and services.
• “Merit will create a robust education marketplace with a targeted group of Qualified Education Service Providers (QESP) designed to meet the needs of Ohio’s students and families.” QESP’s will include education service centers, all Ohio schools and districts, home education advocacy groups, scholarship providers, community-based enrichment and support programs. (Merit’s proposal, p.13)
CAUTION: If parents choose a vendor/provider that is not pre-approved for the “marketplace”, that vendor/provider must be approved by Merit for the expense to be valid. This is NOT what HB 110 described as an eligible expense.
Parents will request payment for qualifying expenses in one the following ways through Merit’s phone app.
1. Submit a valid paid invoice with proof of payment to a QESP (reimbursement)
2. Submit a valid unpaid invoice from a QESP (payment directly to provider)
3. Submit a paid invoice with proof of payment to a Non-QESP. Once the vendor/provider is qualified through Merit the reimbursement will be disbursed to the parent.
4. Submit an unpaid invoice from a Non-QESP. Once the vendor/provider is qualified through Merit the provider will be paid directly.
CHEO’s concern with the implementation of the ACE accounts:
We respect the right of parents to direct the educational opportunities for their children.
Even though this is a temporary funding source, and it bears no direct relation to the long-standing elements of Ohio’s home education regulations, we would caution families against participating in an opportunity that is limited only to vendor/providers approved by an out-of-state third party.
There are hundreds of “eligible” learning opportunities/tools (described in HB110) that parents would normally choose for their home education experience. But the ACE program would require any potential vendor/provider, approved through the Merit qualification process, to be added to the digital marketplace. This vendor/provider would then be obligated to provide services to anyone (public, private or home educated) within the ACE program.
We believe this program would cause unnecessary issues for the home educating community and cannot recommend participation; but respect parental rights to make the best decisions for their households.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.