Here is my piece from the Nashua Telegraph today:
The Telegraph ran a story March 5 about how a California group with two names – Network for Educational Opportunity and The Alliance for the Separation of School and State – is helping the Encarnacion family find an alternative to the sometimes chaotic Manchester public school system. (“Extra credit / Manchester family has charter dreams”).
We can all empathize with Shalimar Encarnacion and her beautiful children, Angelica and Angel. The schools Angelica and Angel attend have limited budgets and serve a transient immigrant population.
Almost everyone qualifies for a free or reduced lunch. The teachers work their hearts out, but the challenges are huge. You can hardly blame her for wanting to improve her kids’ chances.
What should be our response in a case like this? The story’s message is that we should use the state’s new education tax credit program. Advocates for the program say that, while helping the kids, the state also will save money by moving students out of public and into private schools.
That’s because for each child who leaves, the state provides a scholarship averaging $2,500 to a private school instead of an adequacy grant averaging $4,200 to a public school.
That would be great for Angelica Encarnacion, if she were accepted at a private school. And it is particularly attractive to folks who believe, as the California group with two names does, that we should shut down all “government schools.”
But is providing a ticket out for some of the kids really a solution for Manchester’s overcrowded classrooms?
And when the Legislature passed the education tax credit bill over the governor’s veto last year, what was the real goal? Was it a signal that we have given up on public education and want to replace it with low-cost private schools?
I would argue that disinvestment in public education is not a good way to provide a constitutionally adequate education to every child. The Encarnacion family story is a good example.
Start with cost. The kids would like to attend Mount Zion Christian School, where the tuition would be $7,500 for Angelica and $5,500 for Angel. But the scholarship organization has many applicants and little money.
Will it have $2,500 each for Angelica and Angel? If so, is Ms. Encarnacion prepared to pay the remaining $8,000 per year for many years for the two kids? Or is Mount Zion prepared to make that commitment to Angelica and Angel for many years into the future?
Then look more closely at Mount Zion as a replacement for public school. Mount Zion is a small Christian school, but with 155 students and 15 teachers, it is larger than most – and it is accredited.
Many of the tuition payments under this program would go to unaccredited schools with a few teachers and a few dozen students.
What they have in common is philosophy and curriculum. They integrate the Bible into every lesson, every day.
Based on the curriculum Mount Zion and many others use, Angel’s sixth-grade history book could teach him that: “Unfortunately the United Nations failed to end wars and bring about world peace … Over 1 billion people have been slaves under Communism … The United Nations has not been able to preserve the rights of these people. Many people think it has actually helped to spread Communism.”
Angela’s high school science book could say that: “From a Christian standpoint, there are only two worldviews from which to choose – a Christian worldview or a non-Christian worldview. The most important beliefs in a Christian worldview are the beliefs that the Bible is the Word of God and the only completely reliable thing in this world.”
It’s fine for private family money to pay for this, but is this what we want public funds to pay for as an alternative to public school?
Yes, Ms. Encarnacion wishes that there were no repeal bill or court challenge. She has been sold on the benefit of a policy with little legitimate public purpose.
The program promotes the goals of the California group, but it is not a good response to the needs of thousands of New Hampshire schoolchildren.
The House of Representatives has voted to repeal the education tax credit. The Senate should do the same and save the state from going down the road with this misguided policy.
Bill Duncan, of New Castle, is founder of the advocacy group Defending New Hampshire Public Education and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against the state over the education tax credit law.