Advancing New Hampshire Public Education

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Coming to NH: Education tax credit scandals from around the nation and around the world!

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Oops…not from around the word, actually.  Only in the United States do some people assert that the way to improve education is to privatize it.  From Finland to Singapore, the high performing education systems are public school systems working hard to get better.

But we’ve got enough scandal in the U.S. to forecast the future of education tax credits (vouchers) in New Hampshire.  Based on the experience in other states, here’s the equation for bad results:

large credits authorized (and growing automatically)unaccredited religious schools teaching a Creationist curriculum + outside group with hidden agenda + no accountability + no transparency + no oversight = high probability of bad results

Here is a sampling of the headlines we can anticipate if New Hampshire’s voucher program is not repealed.

Florida

Concerns raised over Florida’s Corporate Income Tax Credit Scholarship program

“Comparing the program to public schools is all but impossible because the Legislature – for which public school accountability has been a hallmark – allows different standards for this program. It hasn’t required scholarship students to take the FCAT or teachers to be certified – both requirements in public schools.”

In New Hampshire, we don’t have “different standards” for the private schools subsidized by vouchers.  We have no standards for voucher schools.

“The Legislature also set up specific laws to shield many details about the program, including which businesses participate, how much they give and how well schools are performing. However, two consecutive annual studies ordered by lawmakers showed the scholarship students are performing no better than public school students.”

In New Hampshire we will also not know “which businesses participate, how much they give and how well schools are performing.”  And there is no study like the Florida study to find out.

“There are no educators on the program’s oversight board. The board is primarily made up of [voucher] lobbyists.”

In New Hampshire, there is no oversight board over the millions of dollars in tax credits.  (Every Community Development Finance Authority tax credit investment is approved by 3 groups – an advisory panel, the board of directors and the Governor and Executive Council.  That’s a 30 year old program with only $3.75 million per year in tax credits to give out, less than the voucher program will have in its second year.  There have been no scandals.)

“The inability to adequately compare scholarship students’ progress with their public school counterparts troubles even the most ardent voucher supporters. “It’s a legitimate concern that students participating in these programs don’t receive the same kind of review and accountability,” said Joseph Viteritti, a member of the American Center for School Choice board and public policy professor at Hunter College in New York.”

No kidding.

Florida Voucher Scandal Prompts Calls for Greater Regulation

“A Florida state representative is considering filing legislation to regulate private schools that accept vouchers for disabled students, in light of a scandal involving millions of tax dollars spent fraudulently.”

This happened in a voucher program that has much more oversight than New Hampshire’s tax credit funded voucher programs.

McKay scholarship program sparks a cottage industry of fraud and chaos

” In Florida, private schools essentially go unregulated, even if they’re funded by taxpayer cash.”

In New Hampshire too.

Selling Schools Out

“If the national movement to “reform” public education through vouchers, charters and privatization has a laboratory, it is Florida….But as recently as last year [2010], the radical change envisioned by school reformers still seemed far off, even there. With some of the movement’s cherished ideas on the table, Florida Republicans, once known for championing extreme education laws, seemed to recoil from the fight.”

In New Hampshire, we have no need to wait for all these inevitable troubles.  We can repeal the voucher tax credit now.

Arizona

Rigged Privilege – an investigation into Arizona’s private school tax credit program

“Under the program, taxpayers give money to nonprofit charities called school tuition organizations, or STOs for short. STOs give scholarships to children for private school tuition, and the state provides donors a dollar-for-dollar tax credit in exchange for their contribution. The tax credit law…is touted as a tool to make private education more accessible to families who could not otherwise afford it.”

Sound familiar?

“Instead, it has fostered a rigged system that keeps private education a privilege for the already privileged.”

“The Tribune investigation found:

* An untold number of STOs, schools and parents are using the tax credits in ways that violate federal tax laws governing charitable donations.

* Nearly two-thirds of all STOs failed to spend 90 percent of their donations on scholarships – as required by state law….

* A majority of tax credit donations are earmarked to give scholarships to students already enrolled in private schools, no matter how much money their parents earn. Just seven of the state’s 55 STOs use financial need as the primary factor in deciding who gets tuition money.”

This would be possible in New Hampshire under the changes proposed by Republican leadership.

“* Even as they took in millions of dollars in scholarships, the state’s private schools hiked tuition dramatically, pushing the cost of private education further from the grasp of middle- and low-income families….

“Nearly everyone involved in this process acted with remarkable greed and/or lawlessness. …Flush with an influx of free government money…private schools did the economically rational thing and started jacking up tuition at alarming rates, further pricing out low- and middle-income students. One school suggested that parents could “make money” on the whole process by illegally deducting their non-donations from their federal taxes.”

There is nothing to prevent this from happening in New Hampshire.

“Meanwhile, the legislators who passed the law in the first place set themselves up as the presidents of the non-profit middlemen organizations, the STOs.”

That has not happened yet in New Hampshire.  Instead, it’s the lobbyists who are benefiting.  Only one scholarship organization has so far been approved to handle the millions of dollars authorized for tax credit funded donations and decide what schools it goes to.  That is a California group that came to New Hampshire to help write the law.

Louisiana

Vouchers are a creationist’s best friend

“The great day is dawning when taxpayers pick up the tab for kids to learn that Darwin leads to eternal damnation. Vouchers have turned out to be the answer to a creationist’s prayer.

“…the state proposes to send 1,306 students, at an annual cost of more than $11 million, to 19 religious schools that repudiate evolution and go hook, line and sinker for Genesis. These are just the ones accepted for the voucher that advertise their agenda.”

Funding of some number of Creationist schools in New Hampshire is almost inevitable.  Here’s a partial listing of schools who could get vouchers.  Here’s a profile of the Tri-City Christian Academy, the school in the forefront of lobbying for the voucher tax credit in New Hampshire.

Creationism spreading in schools, thanks to vouchers

“Advocates for vouchers argue that private schools and more competition would offer a better education for American students.  Schools that teach creationism and do not meet basic science standards will fail our students and do not deserve taxpayer funding.”

Judge rules Louisiana school voucher program unconstitutional

“A state judge on Friday shot down Louisiana’s sweeping school voucher program, ruling that the state could not use funds set aside for public education to pay private-school tuition for thousands of low- and middle-income children.”

Georgia

A Failed Experiment: Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarships for Private Schools

“Based on all available evidence, it is clear that the state’s investment in private schools through SSOs [scholarship orgnaizations] has failed to achieve its primary and most important aims. Instead of providing the state’s neediest children trapped in low performing public schools with new, affordable opportunities for a good education, SSOs have carried out the law, in large part, as a means to publicly finance the private education of relatively well‐to‐do students, many of whom are already in private schools.

“These failures are only the beginning of the problems with tax credit scholarships for private schools in Georgia. The law appears to deliberately prevent any level of public accountability for how the tax‐funded program is operated. It criminalizes public disclosure of basic information. It makes it extremely difficult—at times virtually impossible—to ascertain specific information that, if hidden or made inaccessible in the public schools, would be a matter of public outrage.

“As a result, during the first three years in which private student scholarship organizations have raised and used tax‐diverted funds to support scholarships at private schools, SEF [The Southern Education Foundation] has discovered a wide range of serious problems and questions about whether SSOs and private schools are complying with the basic provisions of state law.  Many of these problems do not appear to be accidental. They often appear to be deliberate attempts to ignore or evade the law and its original, honorable goals.

“No private school receiving a tax‐funded scholarship is accountable for how well it spends public funds to educate a student. No SSO is really accountable for its expenditures. In effect, the State of Georgia has a program that is handing millions of tax dollars to anyone who can create a nonprofit organization and can sell private school parents and their friends on diverting tax dollars to support the private schools their children attend. It has allowed these private salesmen to be virtually unaccountable for how they raise and use taxpayer funds for private education.”

Most of these abuses are possible in New Hampshire now and the opportunities would be increased if Republican leadership were to be successful in the future in eliminating the income cap for voucher recipients.

Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools

“While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools, the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism, interviews and documents show. Even some private school parents and administrators have questioned whether the programs are a charade.

“Most of the private schools are religious. Nearly a quarter of the participating schools in Georgia require families to make a profession of religious faith, according to their Web sites. Many of those schools adhere to a fundamentalist brand of Christianity. A commonly used sixth-grade science text retells the creation story contained in Genesis, omitting any other explanation. An economics book used in some high schools holds that the Antichrist — a world ruler predicted in the New Testament — will one day control what is bought and sold.

“The programs are insulated from provisions requiring church-state separation because the donations are collected and distributed by the nonprofit scholarship groups.

“A cottage industry of these groups has sprung up, in some cases collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative fees, according to tax filings. The groups often work in concert with private schools like Gwinnett Christian Academy to solicit donations and determine who will get the scholarships — in effect limiting school choice for the students themselves. In most states, students who withdraw from the schools cannot take the scholarship money with them.”

Georgia’s Tax Dollars Help Finance Private Schools with Severe Anti-Gay Policies, Practices, & Teachings

“At least 115 private schools participating in Georgia’s tax-funded scholarship program have explicit, severe anti-gay policies or belong to state and national private school associations that promote anti-gay policies and practices among their members. These schools constitute approximately one-fourth of all private schools that are currently affiliated with SSOs in Georgia’s tax-funded scholarship program.”

Pennsylvania

Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools

‘Some of the programs have also become enmeshed in politics, including in Pennsylvania, where more than 200 organizations distribute more than $40 million a year donated by corporations. Two of the state’s largest scholarship organizations are controlled by lobbyists, and they frequently ask lawmakers to help decide which schools get the money, according to interviews. The arrangement provides a potential opportunity for corporate donors seeking to influence legislators and also gives the lobbying firms access to both lawmakers and potential new clients.’


2 Comments

  1. Now we see how, once again, like “Right to Work”, “free choice” is the manipulation of the language to serve partisan, ideological purposes.

  2. Stan Solomon says:

    Conflict creation rather than conflict management, mitigation and resolution seems to be the direction our nation and our state is heading. The results for our democracy, as we live it, could be disastrous with tax vouchers for private schools being just another nail in the coffin.

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