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Bill Duncan’s Senate testimony on voucher repeal

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Thank you, Senators, for the opportunity to speak with you today.  My name is Bill Duncan, from New Castle.

I’ve got 3 points to make briefly.

The education tax credit program is about privatization, not poor kids

First, the education tax credit program is all about privatization of our local public schools, not about poor kids.  Seen as an effort to help poor kids, it would not be good public policy.

It’s already in trouble

Second, because of the lack of oversight and business support, the program has fallen on its face right out of the starting gate.  There’s no need to wait to see that it has failed.

Unaccredited Creationist schools will have access

And finally, the lack of school accountability means that unaccredited Creationist schools would have full access to tuition subsidies funded by public money, New Hampshire tax credits.  This is not a desirable public policy outcome.


Privatization, not poor kids

There can be no doubt that the tax credit program is all about privatization.  The legislation said it (“maximum freedom…without governmental control,” the bill says).  The prime sponsor said it, “Get government, state and federal, out of education.”  Our one scholarship organization says it – “end government involvement in education,” they say.  And the godfather of the movement, Milton Friedman said it in his paper: “Public schools: make them private.”

In fact, legislators received a red book called “The ABCs of school choice” from the Friedman foundation:  It says the goal is “to make [school choice] available to all families nationwide.”   In other words, disinvest in  public education and send the money to private schools where the marketplace can do its work.  The report’s advice for New Hampshire and every other state is to make scholarships for the full cost of a public education available to every student.  You’ve already heard those proposals this year in the House this year.

So it’s not about poor kids.  But even if you disagree, you think it is about poor kids, it’s bad policy

My wife and I have done anti-poverty work for the last 40 years and have seen many effective programs to help poor kids – early childhood development, nutrition, health programs.  Targeting more adequacy funding to poor communities would be an effective anti-poverty policy.  There are strategies for helping poor kids, but paying for them to go to private school is not one of them.

The Nashua Telegraph reported on the program.  Shalimar Encarnacion said that, with the tax credit scholarships, her two kids could go to the local Christian school instead of the overcrowded Manchester schools.

Never mind that the Encarnacions or the school would have to come up with tens of thousands of dollars more to send the kids there for many years.  What if you could do a hundred of these scholarships in Manchester and somehow find hundreds of thousands of dollars of addition private money?  Manchester has 13,000 kids, 10,000 of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch.  That’s over ¾ of the kids!  As a policy matter, why would the State of New Hampshire come in and pluck a few kids out to go to private schools?  How does that do anything for Manchester or as a strategy for the rest of the State? (Attachment 1)

Universal pre-K is just one example of a far better investment.

So this is a privatization program, not an anti-poverty strategy.  But even if you do agree with some of the advocates that the unions are bad and the local public schools are terrible, what we’ve seen of this program already should worry you.

It’s already in trouble

This is a business tax credit with none of the normal oversight or business support.  As a result, the program has crumpled at the starting gate in a way that, all by itself, is a basis for repeal.

The Community Development Finance Authority was set up 30 years go to provide “affordable housing and economic opportunity” for poor people.  It is an anti-poverty program done right, with a highly qualified staff and full oversight by a board that looks in detail at every tax credit project.  Every donor is public.  No scandals.  And it’s a smaller tax credit than this one.  Businesses love it because they see the impact in their communities.  If you haven’t discussed it with Kathy Bogle Shields, the director, you should.  You’ll be inspired by what our State is doing.

It was done the New Hampshire way – prudent, conservative, a step at a time.  We did the same thing with charter schools.  They’re vetted by the state board, answer to the DOE.  So there’s wide public support for charters.

But the education tax credit is a whole different animal.  There is no oversight group at all.  The entire oversight for the program consists of an annual report with a few statistics.  As a result, we have only one scholarship organization so far, a California organization that helped write and lobby for the bill (Attachment 2).  It now has sole access to millions of dollars in donations funded by New Hampshire business tax credits.  They raise the money and decide which students and schools get the scholarships.

A short time ago, this was a one person group with a $135,000 budget.  But if they could raise what the law allows, they could have taken a million dollars off the top in the first two years.  They added 7 people and have been getting plenty of scholarship applications, as you would expect, but virtually no support from the business community.  They got $100,000 from one donor and another $40,000 from several more, but this is not a program business supports.

Unaccredited Creationist schools

Then you get to the schools themselves.  Certainly some well qualified schools could participate.  But there are no qualifications laid down, so lots of others would get these tuition subsidies as well, including those who lobbied hard for the bill and are marketing the scholarships to their parents.

The lack of school accountability enables New Hampshire’s unaccredited Creationist schools to gain full access to the scholarships.  I’ve attached a sampling (Attachment 3).  Most voters would be very surprised to see that, while Creationism isn’t taught in our public schools, the education tax credit program would be integrating Creationist Bible teaching with every lesson, on every subject, every day.

This is not an anti-Christian statement.  But I’m not a Creationist and I don’t think most New Hampshire voters will support a program funded by New Hampshire tax credits teaching Creationism.

Conclusion

You’ll hear that this is private money.  I would say that if you have to budget for an $8.5 million tax credit for the biennium and figure out how that is going to be paid for, you are funding this program with public money.

And you will hear that this tax credit would save New Hampshire money.  And that’s true.  Every little bit of privatization you do will save the State money.  You can take a child from a $12k/year public school that gets $4,200 in state aid, give her a $2,500 scholarship and send her to a private school that teaches that dinosaurs and people were created on the sixth day.  That does save money – but at a very high cost to our children’s future.

I urge you to support HB 370, repeal of the education tax credit program.


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