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Here’s how the education tax credit debate shapes up for the Senate vote

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At the heart of it all, advocates say the tax credit is about “school choice for kids.”  But if you look behind the headline, it’s hard to see poverty as the target.  It looks a lot more like privatization of public education.

The Alliance for the Separation of School and State: Start with the California group that helped write the law and is now the only scholarship organization who decides what schools get the millions of dollars of New Hampshire tax credit funded tuitions authorized by the last Legislature.  In New Hampshire, they call themselves The Network for Educational Opportunity.  They say their purpose is to end “government involvement in education.”  But that’s just the beginning.

Tri-City Christian Academy: Read here about how Tri-City, which testified for the tax credits at every hearing and sometimes sent four people, feels public schools are illegitimate and evil.

Friedman Foundation Red Book: Last week, Friedman sent each New Hampshire legislator a red booklet called “The ABCs of school choice.”   Up front they say that “school choice [is] the most effective and equitable way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America”  and that the foundation’s goal is “to make that opportunity available to all families nationwide.”   Translated, this means we should disinvest in  public education and send the money to private schools where the marketplace can do its work.  The Friedman report’s advice for New Hampshire (p. 54) is to increase the number and size of scholarships.  That’s their advice for every state: make the scholarships for the full cost of a public education and make them available to every student.  In New Hampshire, Republican legislative leadership has already begun making those proposals.

Milton Friedman made this very point when he was alive: “Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a free-market system.” (from Public Schools: Make Them Private)

But maybe a few poor kids get helped along the way?  I make the case here that there is not enough impact on poor kids to provide a public policy justification for this program.

Some legislators will feel a philosophical kinship with the “school choice” idea and disregard all this.  However, the education tax credit program fails the simplest “good government” test as well.

No credible scholarship organization: The State of New Hampshire has approved the California group with two names, the one that wants to shut down public education, as the only scholarship organization qualified to raise and distribute this money.  The group was small when it started years ago and has become steadily smaller every since.  It has received, at most, $140,000 so far, mostly from one company.  And the scholarship applications it has gathered appear to be primarily from children already in private or home schools, making it difficult to assert that they need the scholarships.

No oversight or accountability: In a State that has provided strong oversight for its community development tax credits and for charter schools, there is no oversight or transparency for the education tax credit program.  There is also no educational accountability for the participating schools.

As a result:

Tax credit funded tuition subsidies will go to unaccredited religious schools teaching Creationism: There are many smaller versions of Tri-City Academy (above).  Many of them teach a blunt, politically conservative version of Creationism.  Constitutionality aside, most New Hampshire voters would probably not agree that the $8.5 million the Legislature allocated to the tax credits for this program is well spent.

Many kinds of bad results: If the program were allow to continue operating, we could expect the same headlines we’ve seen about the sister programs in other states.

The education tax credit program is bad policy poorly implemented.  We should repeal it.


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