The Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee held a great hearing yesterday on HB 370 to repeal the education tax credit passed last session. Although Senator Sanborn (R, Bedford) came late and Senator Reagan (R, Deerfield) left early and both slumped snarley in their chairs while supporters of HB 370 were speaking, Senator Stiles (R, Hampton) ran a respectful hearing in which everyone got as much time as needed and Senators Gilmour (D, Nashua) and Kelley (D, Keene) were tuned in, appreciative of and attentive to every presenter.
Forty two supporters of voucher repeal registered for the hearing vs. only 29 opponents. Most supporters of the tax credit were the direct beneficiaries – religious schools, potential scholarship recipients, staff of the scholarship organization – or “school choice” advocates. (Two people listed by the scholarship organization as staff testified without identifying themselves as staff.)
As to supporters of repeal, the National Education Association of New Hampshire (one of the two teachers’ unions) and the New Hampshire School Boards Association testified and the American Federation of Teachers (the other teachers’ union) registered in support of the bill, but most of those testifying in favor of voucher repeal had no direct personal connection to the tax credit program or to public schools. They just seemed to think that public schools needed defending.
Supporters of voucher repeal made the case that tax credit program is a failure in both policy and implementation. It is a policy failure because our State policy should be to strengthen our public schools, not privatize them, as tax credit supporters advocate when they push for universal access to vouchers worth the full cost of educating a child in the public schools (here in my testimony). Witnesses said that the program is an implementation failure because, as a result of the lack of oversight, the group running the program is inappropriate and business has not supported it. Also, because there is no educational accountability, unaccredited Creationist schools will have access to the program. I made that point in my testimony. Many other repeal supporters focused as well on the scholarship organization, wondering how the State of New Hampshire could have ended up giving an under-qualified outside group like the Network for Educational Opportunity, with its anti-public education agenda, access to millions of dollars in state business tax credits. (New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration staff pointed out that there is no selection process, another way of saying there is no real oversight of the program.)
Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, chair of the House Education Committee and sponsor of HB 370, the voucher repeal bill, discussed the issues in her testimony. Rep. Lorrie Carey (D, Boscawen) gave her view (here) and Rep. Chris Muns did (here) as well. And Andrea Williams made the point beautifully here.
The president of the scholarship organization, Connecticut resident Alan Schaeffer, attended the hearing but, surprisingly, did not speak. The director of the group’s New Hampshire activities, Kate Baker, had no written testimony but did speak at the end. She said that earlier testimony about her organization and its goals was incorrect but that she did not have time to say how. Other supporters of the tax credit program made case for the failure of the public school system but also did not address the policy or implementation issues.