Here’s an interesting exchange in the Laconia Daily Sun. First, on March 5th, Cathy Merwin states the case against vouchers clearly and accurately. Then, down below, you’ll see a March 6th response (how did he get it in so fast?) from former representative Greg Hill who, as always, is hostile and inaccurate. I’ve inserted corrections to identify Mr. Hills major errors:
To the editor,
The Meredith candidates for school board have each attended numerous school board meetings and both seem aware of the issues facing the Inter-Lakes school district.
But Chris Mega and Mark Billings take different positions on the school voucher plan passed by the previous legislature and that difference is critical reflection of their outlook on public education.
In a letter to the newspapers last fall, Mark Billings wrote: “those who think this bill will financially hurt the public school system have not read the law.” The figures don’t support that statement. If a family takes advantage of the voucher provided by the educational tax credit, the school district would be penalized by losing its state support for that student (to the tune of $4000-$10,000) immediately. If a student leaves for other reasons, the state spreads that loss over time to allow the district to adjust to the financial loss. Depending on the number of students taking advantage of the voucher, the immediate financial impact could be substantial.
As Chris Mega has pointed out, this law has already been repealed by the N.H. House and is awaiting consideration by the N.H. Senate. It is also being challenged in N.H. courts. Diverting state funds earmarked for public education to religious schools certainly appears to violate the constitutionally protected separation of church and state.
In addition, the law provides no accountability as to the quality of the education or the educational outcomes for the student receiving the voucher: that is certainly not in the state or the student’s best interests.
Chris Mega has volunteered extensively in the Inter-Lakes schools, moved to Meredith to educate his children here and would bring a wide range of knowledge to the Inter-Lakes school board.
I am supporting Chris Mega for school board and urge all Inter-Lakes voters to visit his website, http://www.chrismega.com, to learn more about his great credentials.
Now from Mr. Hill on March 6th
To the editor,
Cathy Merwin’s endorsement in Tuesday’s paper described the new education tax credit program as badly as any letter I’ve yet seen. As one of the bills drafters, I am confident in reporting:
— The program has been ruled constitutional in at least eight state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. It is NOT a voucher program, as some misguided have claimed.
“The program” is different in every state and each state’s constitution is different. Rulings in other states are not relevant.
— the program actually increases the amount spent on a per-pupil basis in the public school districts.
What he means is that, while a district loses students and the state adequacy grant for those students, the budget can’t go down quickly enough to keep up. So the district loses students and money and instructional capability, but still has to keep the lights on, so the cost per student goes up while the quality of instruction goes down.
— It only serves low to moderate income families whose children aren’t doing well in their assigned public schools. To repeal it now would harm only low-income people.
The program is targeted to those folks only after Mr. Hill and his fellow sponsors resisted targeting until it became necessary in order to get the bill passed. And now Bill O’Brien is proposing to remove targeting all together.
— It allows a student to attend any school in N.H. which fits their learning style including public, private or home schools.
— It contains a financial safety net for the school district if too many students leave one school district (shouldn’t that be a red flag?).
— The money that creates the scholarships is voluntarily donated by businesses who receive a tax credit in an amount similar to five other tax credit programs in this state.
The amount is not similar. It is already much larger than other tax credits programs even though the others have been around longer. And the voucher program is subject to much less oversight. The business receives a tax credit which is almost dollar for dollar equal to the amount donated. A $10,000 donation costs the business only $429 out of pocket. But there is no board of directors, advisory board or Executive Council overseeing the tax credits as there is for less generous the Community Development Finance Authority tax credit.
— It was designed to save the state money.
The program saves the state money because the State provides scholarships averaging $2,500 to private schools instead of adequacy grants averaging $4,200 to the public schools. In other words, the voucher program privatizes New Hampshire public education. Most of the private schools that participate will be small, unaccredited religious schools that are not replacements for New Hampshire public schools delivering a quality public education.
— It increases parental involvement in their child’s education, which studies show improve the outcome for the child. That is, they do better!
This is just an out-of-the-blue assertion that has no meaning.
— It has been successful in every state it’s been tried.
This program has never been tried in another state. Other states 1.) target to lower income people than New Hampshire does; 2.) do not fund home schooling; 3.) provide for academic accountability for participating schools (monitor test results, etc.); and, 4.) take children only from low performing schools. The New Hampshire program is a libertarian’s dream, which is why the Cato Institute praises it as a national model.
Here in N.H., so far 500 lower-income families have applied for scholarships. These families average five persons and an average family income of approximately $42,000. They applied while understanding this is not a “free ride”. They must contribute to the new school their child attends and still, they want to leave their assigned public school. We should not deny these thoughtful, caring parents this opportunity to better their children’s lives. The wealthy have school choice. So should the rest of us.
We have charter schools to help those folks. We do not need unaccountable religious schools.