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If you want to help New Hampshire’s low income students, there are plenty of alternatives to vouchers

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Today’s Union Leader did not defend vouchers as a program for poor kids.  They got straight to the point: to create a private alternative to “government schools.”  And they’re right.  Dismantling public schools is, as Milton Friedman said, the whole point:

“Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a free-market system.”

House Republican leadership agrees that the voucher tax credit is not about poor kids.  Here is Bill O’Brien talking about removing the provision of the bill that targets the vouchers to low and moderate income families.

Nonetheless, you keep seeing arguments asserting that it’s all about poor kids, like this one from former representative Greg Hill to a Bedford paper or this one in a recent Union Leader.  Actually, a $2,500 voucher is not a great help to poor people when private school tuitions are much higher. And, as Bill O’Brien obligingly points out, the bill could be changed any time to leave poor people out.  But we have no need for a voucher program to help low income people.  There are better alternatives.

The most obvious is charter schools.  There are 18 in New Hampshire now and soon we’ll have over 20.  And they are public schools, free to any New Hampshire child.  Many charters are targeted to kids at risk of failure in the traditional public school system or with special needs or circumstances.  Many charters provide individualized instruction.  One, the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (or “VLACS,” as it’s called) is a state-wide, on-line charter school that offers a wealth of courses and individualized support for every student.  It’s free to New Hampshire students and available at any computer.

The other proven way to reach low income students and benefit them throughout their lives is to invest in early childhood development.  Rochester, Hampstead, Milan and other districts offer pre-K now and more will do it over time.  There are great non-profit preschools and Head Start programs all around the State.  The benefit of investing in high quality early childhood development is well documented.  Legislators concerned about helping low income children overcome the challenges they face could propose investing the $8 million authorized for the first two years of the voucher program – and $130 million for the first 10 years – in public support for early childhood development in New Hampshire.

If voucher tax credit supporters are really committed to helping New Hampshire’s low income children rather than dismantling our public schools, they have plenty of great alternatives to vouchers.

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