We have a real opportunity to achieve voucher repeal this year – maybe in the next 3 weeks.
HB 370, voucher repeal, has passed the house and is awaiting action in the Senate. The vote count in the Senate is 12-12. There has been a steady stream of letters in the paper urging the Senate to support repeal.
The public hearing on HB 370 has been scheduled for Friday, March 22, at 1:00PM in Room 100 of the State House
If I could ask you for one thing for the rest of this session, it would be to attend this Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee hearing and speak in favor of HB 370. Testimony should be very brief, one minute or less. There is no need to make a long, reasoned pitch. The only point is to show that the citizens of New Hampshire care about this issue and are paying attention.
No date has been set for a floor vote on the bill, but it could be the first week of April.
The array of arguments against the voucher program and for repeal is so persuasive that it’s hard to believe that Senator Stiles and other traditional conservative, good-government Republicans won’t favor repeal in the end. Here are the issues that have become apparent as the program tries to roll out:
Is the voucher program about helping poor kids or about privatization of public education?
Voucher tax credits are sold as a way to provide school choice for poor kids. But right behind the heart-strings tugging, the groups involved make clear that tax credits are really about privatizing public education. The “Red Book” that all legislators received from the Friedman Foundation this week made that point too, saying that “school choice [is] the most effective and equitable way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America” and the goal is “to make that opportunity available to all families nationwide.” In other words, disinvest in public education and send the money to private schools. As you will see below, the New Hampshire advocates don’t stick to such bland purpose statements. They say clearly that they want to shut down government schools.
Senators voting on repeal should be left with no doubt about what they are voting on. Support for vouchers is support for privatizing public education. In addition, as you see from the headlines below, the New Hampshire voucher program itself is a mess. Here are the points voucher opponents have been making in the public debate.
The education tax credit (voucher) program is bad public policy.
There are many effective ways to improve the lives of poor kids – early childhood development programs, nutrition programs, medical health programs, targeting more education funding to poor communities. But paying for them to go to religious schools is not one of them. Recent news coverage about a Manchester family’s education challenges illustrated this point. The idea was that, if they got tax credit scholarships, they could go to the local Christian school instead of the overcrowded Manchester schools.
The family would still have been left with large tuition bills, but leave that aside. As a policy matter, sending a few of Manchesters 13,000 kids out to go to private schools would do little for Manchester education. I wrote an opinion piece for the Nashua Telegraph on this, here.
The voucher program is not really rolling out. It is stumbling.
Donations: Businesses have applied for $118,000 in tax credits so far and there has been little movement in this figure over the past 2 months. As of a couple of weeks ago, none had actually donated money to a scholarship organization. The Department of Revenue Administration says, “Business interest in the education tax credit program does not rise to the level of tepid.” The BIA (our state-wide chamber of commerce) took no position on voucher. Business people have little interest in being associated with an effort to dismantle public education.
Scholarship applications: Apparently most of the 500 applications so far are from families with multiple children already homeschooling or in private religious schools. We do see the State’s small religious schools marketing to the parents of their existing students. It does not appear that there will be enough money to assist many applicants.
The program authorizes $8.5 million in the first 2 years, but with no oversight
New Hampshire’s 30 year old Community Development Finance Authority tax credit program grants only $3.75 million per year in tax credits but its staff and two separate boards review every project in detail. The donors are listed publicly. It is well managed, it is considered an honor to sit on the boards and there have been no scandals.
New Hampshire’s charter schools get vetted by the State Board of Education and answer to the Department of Education for curriculum and educational results. As a result, they provide good curricula and enjoy good public support.
But the voucher program is a whole different animal. Scholarship organizations are approved by Department of Revenue Administration staff. There is no oversight board. Donors names are not public. Oversight consists of one report per year transmitting summary statistics. Here’s more.
As a result, the only scholarship organization so far is, well, a poor choice
There were plenty of credible alternatives, but the only scholarship organization appointed to date is a California group that helped write the New Hampshire legislation authorizing the tax credits – The Alliance for the Separation of School and State. In New Hampshire they call themselves The Network for Educational Opportunity. Describing their mission, they say, “Our society has become a slave to the state by virtue of government-controlled schools….Government schooling stands in direct opposition to the liberty this country was founded on… I favor ending government involvement in education.”
This is the group that operates autonomously, marketing New Hampshire’s tax credits and deciding who gets the donations. Here’s more.
There is no accountability in the selection or performance of the voucher schools
The New Hampshire voucher program is unusual in how little accountability is required of participating schools (more here). As a result, many small unaccredited schools are planning to participate (here’s a sample). Many teach a Creationist, often overtly political, curriculum far removed from that of any publicly supported school. A number of religious schools and their associations testified for the voucher bill. Here’s how one of those schools, the Tri-City Christian Academy, describes it’s philosophy:
Here is more detail on the curricula in many New Hampshire religious schools.
As a result, we can anticipate the kind of trouble other states have experienced with voucher programs
Here is an alarming sample of recent headlines.
Please plan to come on Friday. The senate committee needs to hear from you.