Now is a good time to end the voucher program
The tax credit funded voucher program was passed last year because conservatives in favor of privatizing our public schools temporarily had a supermajority capable of overriding the Governor’s veto.
Now the public has replaced that Legislature with a more balanced alternative charged with setting a new path. Although the voucher program is a symbol of the excesses of the last Legislature, many will still say, “Give the program a chance….there are poor children who already depend on it.”
Legislators have even received calls saying, “My child is in private school now and I’m depending on this program to enable me to keep him there.”
We need to be clear. No children depend on this program now or will depend on it until next September. The best time to shut this program down is now, while no tax credits have been issued, very little business money has been committed, and before the program has started the process of privatizing New Hampshire’s public schools.
The program is expensive
The voucher program is small now but the legislation allows it to grow dramatically. If it grows as the bill provides for, in the 10th year, the program will be spending $30 million dollars every year moving our children from our public schools into private schools. That’s 13,000 children it would be paying for in year 10 – almost 10% of the students in New Hampshire.
In this current biennium, the voucher program would spend over $8 million. Here is how it works:
The program grants businesses an 85% tax credit for contributing to a scholarship organization but the way state taxes are calculated, that really amounts to a 93.5% credit. So a business can give $100,000 to a scholarship organization instead of $93,500 in state taxes. The business is deciding to give our tax money to the scholarship organization instead of to the State. This is the same as if the State had just given that scholarship organization $93,500 of our business tax money.
The Legislature downshifted this cost to the communities because the school district immediately loses its state adequacy grant for each voucher student.
The program does cap the cost to any one district at .25% of the previous year’s budget, but that’s still real money. Think of it in terms of the state budget. One quarter percent for the current biennium would be over $11 million dollars out of our general fund. This is 2 or 3 times what would be needed to restore the CHINS program. In Concord, that’s almost $200,000 out of Concord’s $78 million budget. That’s a lot of money to find out in September that you will lose in that school year.
In addition, the program shifts money from poorer to wealthier towns:
Say a private school student gets $2,500 voucher or a home school student gets a $600 voucher. Either way, the school loses over $4,000 of its state adequacy grant. Where does that profit go? Among other things, it pays for the voucher students in towns like Portsmouth. The State can’t take money from Portsmouth’s adequacy grant because Portsmouth gets no state grant. So the profits from Concord are paying for the voucher students from Portsmouth.
This is a complex and poorly conceived program that takes money from our public schools and gives it to private schools.
There is no accountability to taxpayers
Most states make their voucher schools accountable. They require at least standardized tests and often much more. But in New Hampshire, there is no accountability to the taxpayer for this large and perpetually growing stream of scarce public money.
The program will fund religious education
Our Constitution forbids using state money to fund religious instruction. The voucher program is being challenged in court but, regardless of the court decision, it is bad state policy to spend our money teaching children that dinosaurs and people roamed the earth together a few thousand years ago.
Most participating schools will probably be Christian schools. Of the 114 nonpublic schools in New Hampshire, 71 are religious schools. There are twice as many students in New Hampshire’s religious schools as in secular private schools (11,000 vs. 5,500).
Grade school tuitions average $12,000 in secular private grade schools and $5,500 in religious grade schools. High schools cost even more. And out of district public school tuitions are $10-$15,000/year. For many parents, a voucher will be sufficient to enable many parents to send their children to religious schools, but will not be enough to enable them to attend nonreligious schools. As a result, our experience would probably be like that of other states – most of the participating schools will be small Christian schools with low tuitions.
And religion does play a central role in many of the 71 religious schools in New Hampshire:
- At Cornerstone Christian Academy, a K–8 school in Epsom, the “purpose” of the school is “to be an extension of the Christian home and church . . . and thus to provide a continuity of training for Christian young people.”
- At Community Bible Academy in Berlin, “[a]ll subject matter is presented in light of the Scripture with a Biblical view of God and guiding principles to equip the student for life.”
- The “purpose” of Calvary Christian School in Plymouth is “to provide Christian education by integrating Biblical principles throughout the curriculum.”
- Dublin Christian Academy promulgates a “Statement of Faith” that professes that “the Genesis account of creation is to be accepted literally and not allegorically or figuratively”; that“ all animal and plant life were made directly by God in six literal, twenty-four hour periods”; and that “any form of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery, and pornography are sinful perversions of God’s gift of sex.” Ex. 37 at 179–80. This Statement of Faith also condemns all forms of abortion, including for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
Many of New Hampshire’s private religious schools describe themselves as “ministries” of a parish or church.
- Laconia Christian School “has been a significant ministry of Laconia Christian Fellowship Church for more than 30 years.”
- The Lighthouse Christian Academy in Rochester is “a ministry of the Harvest of Praise Church of God.”
- At Tabernacle Christian School in Litchfield, the “principal, teachers and other staff are employed in a ministry” of Tabernacle Baptist Church.
Most of New Hampshire’s religious schools require students to participate in religious activities such as Bible classes, worship services, and classroom prayer.
- At Salem Christian School, “[a]ll grades incorporate Biblical principles in all subjects and also have regular Bible study classes” every day of the week except for Wednesday, which is when the weekly “chapel service” is held.
- The Infant Jesus School, a Catholic elementary school in Nashua, requires all students, “regardless of the[ir] religious affiliation,” to “participate in all liturgies, classroom prayer, and other aspects of the spiritual life of the school. The teaching of Religion is a content subject in which all students must participate.”
- The Bethlehem Christian School and others use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. ACE is a thoroughly creationist curriculum. Among many other Christian tenets, it teaches that:
• Humans and Dinosaurs Co-Existed
• Evolution Has Been Disproved
• A Japanese Whaling Boat Found a Dinosaur
• Science proves homosexuality is a learned behavior
These schools are entitled to their beliefs, but New Hampshire state law should not require tax payers to pay for them.