Advancing New Hampshire Public Education

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New Hampshire education at the school choice crossroads

The national debate about the future of American public education has landed in New Hampshire with full force. We have always seen our public schools as a community asset serving everyone. Now, more and more, there are those who argue it should really be everyone for her or himself – that we should replace our system of public schools with a marketplace of private choice in which each family constructs its own education system.

Our New Hampshire public schools have always served all  “our kids,” as Harvard scholar and New Hampshire resident Professor Robert Putnam puts it. Our schools lead the country in student achievement and innovation.  However, that commitment to high quality public education for all students may be changing. We may be on the road to replacing public education as we have known it with a system of publicly-funded individual parental choices.

There are many signs of this showing up at the New Hampshire Board of Education (here’s a backgrounder on how to communicate with the state board), in the Legislature and in local school board meetings, but they may not be easily visible or understandable from a distance.  So ANHPE will promote as full a discussion and understanding of this contest of visions as possible so that people can weigh in knowledgeably.  We will present the information as straightforwardly as possible in “top line” form, but will also drill down to understand the rest of the background when you might need it to take action.

We will present information factually but we are not neutral on the issue.  New Hampshire has the opportunity to continue to invest in moving our schools from the industrial model we’ve inherited to what our students need to be prepared for family, civic and work life in the 21st century.

Or we can be moved, in big visible steps or smaller, incremental, less visible steps, toward an individualized, market based school choice system in which each parent is responsible to cobble together an education system for each child.  This is a vision in which our district schools would become just one a la carte choice among many –  an online software company, a voucher-funded private school or home school, a charter school or a traditional district school.

New Hampshire has a choice to make – neighborhood schools for “our kids” or an education marketplace in which every family is on its own.  You can read about the great work our neighborhood schools are doing at Reaching Higher NH.  Here at ANHPE, we will continue to support the diligent work our parents and education are doing, but our primary focus will to provide opportunities to weigh in on the school choice discussion that is so critical at this moment.

The Finance Committee should recommend ITL on SB 193

SB 193 would require local school districts to use their limited adequacy grants to subsidize home and private school costs.  The current version of the bill requires that, beyond a certain point, the State’s General Fund would reimburse the the school districts for those grants, making SB 193 a substantial and growing part of the state budget.

There are many fundamental policy problems with the bill, but here are some of the fiscal issues the Finance Committee should consider in its current analysis: (more…)

The impact of SB 193 on the General Fund will, under any assumptions, larger than the Legislature will accept

Advocates for and against SB 193 will over the next weeks debate participation rates and the other assumptions that drive the financial impact of SB 193.  However, our analysis is that, even under the most conservative assumptions, the impact of SB 193 on the General Fund will be so large that SB 193 will not make good on its promise to limit the damage to local school districts.  In the end, school districts would be left with most of the bill.

Here’s why.

We’ve done this analysis of the “Potential Impact of SB 193 on the New Hampshire General Fund,” assuming very low participation rates.  This surely is not the last word.  Various factors could change as the Finance Committee analyzes the bill in greater depth and agencies provide more data.   However, the broad basics of the bill are clear from the Potential Impact spreadsheet.

If the SB 193 program started out with a 1% participation rate, less than the current waiting list for the Education Tax Credit program, and grew over 5 years to a only a 2% participation rate, less than in any of the comparison states, SB 193 would have funded almost 13,000 students and spent tens of millions of dollars from the General Fund.  (more…)

Outsourcing decision making to an independent scholarship organization increases the risk to the General Fund.

It is unusual, under any circumstances, for New Hampshire to consider outsourcing the administration of a huge new program such as the ESA initiative to an outside entity, especially one about which the State has no detailed information. However, the possibility is especially concerning in the case of SB 193. (more…)

SB 193 grants concentrated in a few communities will cost New Hampshire even much more that distributing them evenly

If the ESA grants were distributed equitably throughout the state, the General Fund impact would be relatively low.  But if the ESA grants are concentrated in a relatively few communities, the call on stabilization funds will be much higher. The table below shows the impact.

If the participation rate is only 1% and the grants are spread evenly to all 176 school districts throughout the State, the districts pay most of the cost out of their 1/4%. If, just for illustration purposes, the grants all went to the 5 largest high need communities in which the ETC has concentrated its work, the General Fund impact is very large, as shown in the table. (more…)

SB 193 grants would probably be concentrated in a few communities

Reaching Higher NH has presented persuasive and detailed data projecting that ESA grants should not be expected to be evenly used across the State and that property poor communities to be impacted the most.

Data from the 2012 voucher program funded by tax credits (ETC program) bears that out. (more…)

Concord Monitor injects reality into assertions from SB 193 supporters

Advocates on both side of the voucher issue laid out their basic financial cases yesterday before the House Finance Committee.  This is just the opening salvo as the committee begins its analysis of the bill but it included unrealistic assertions by proponents that few children would actually use the generous vouchers and there would be enough extra money in the General Fund to cover any costs there might be.  (Here is our assessment, “Virtually every student in New Hampshire could be eligible for a grant from the SB 193 voucher program.”)

The Concord Monitor this morning features the bill’s primary advocate in the House making the case that not many children would even be eligible: (more…)

Virtually every student in New Hampshire could be eligible for a grant from the SB 193 voucher program

At yesterday’s Finance Committee hearing on SB 193, advocates for the bill continued to quote the requirement that students’ families earn no more than 300% of poverty, or $73,600 for a family of four, as the key determinant of student eligibility for large ESA grants. However, the criteria listed on page 1 of the bill make clear that eligibility is, in fact, unlimited. Here are all the pathways the bill provides into the voucher program: (more…)

N.H. Attorney General About-Face on School Choice – Valley News Editorial

Here, the Valley News does a great, thorough, review of the Attorney General’s odd reversal of his opinion on the constitutionality of SB 193.  In the odd email to the Speaker, Attorney Edwards makes clear that this was a personal decision by the Attorney General: (more…)

What should we expect next on SB 193, the voucher bill

The House supported SB 193, passed by the Senate last year but changed substantially by the House Education Committee, leading to the 1 84-164 vote on January 3rd. The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee, which has scheduled its public hearing for January 16 at 1:30 in room 210-211 of the Legislative Office Building (right behind the State House). (more…)

Here is the House roll call vote on SB 193

Here is the roll call on SB 193, sorted by last name of the House member.  Below, the vote is presented sorted by Yeahs and Nays and below that, by party. (more…)