Thank you Madame Chairman and Senators for this opportunity to speak with you today. For the record, my name is Chris Muns. I am a state representative from Rockingham District 21, which includes the Town of Hampton and – more importantly- I am the father of a special needs child.
I am proud to have voted for HB370 and to repeal the Education Tax Credit Program, when the House approved this bill on February 20. I urge you report this bill as Ought To Pass to the entire Senate.
Two of you currently serving on this committee voted against the Education Tax Credit Program when it was approved last year, not once but twice when you chose not to override the Governor’s veto. Clearly, you did not believe that it was good public policy last year.
I agree with you and nothing has changed to make it good policy now. Hopefully, you and the other members of this committee will join in correcting a wrong before any children are directly affected by it.
Families throughout New Hampshire have every right to send their children to a private school, religious or not. Those schools are entitled to teach their students whatever they want. I do not question that. But I do not believe that revenues from the New Hampshire General Fund should be used to support them.
And that is exactly what will happen if this program is implemented. There is no difference between a business receiving an 85% tax credit in exchange for a donation to a “scholarship organization” and the state sending a check directly to that same organization. In both cases, revenues that the state – the people of New Hampshire – are entitled to receive will be funneled to schools who, under this program, are not accountable to the state.
This lack of accountability is unique to New Hampshire, compared to similar programs in other states. For example:
- Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin require annual financial reporting from the schools. New Hampshire requires none.
- Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin require proof of financial viability. New Hampshire does not.
- Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin, Arizona and Florida require participation in standardized testing. New Hampshire does not.
- Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona and Florida require public reporting of testing results. New Hampshire does not.
- Wisconsin and Florida perform independent evaluations. New Hampshire has no plans for evaluation.
This lack of accountability is in stark contrast to New Hampshire’s public charter schools, which are fully accountable to the State Board of Education and the Department of Education. As a result, the citizens of the State have transparent access to charter school performance along side the performance of all New Hampshire schools and can determine whether they feel their investment in charters is well spent; something that is not the case with the investment we are all being asked to make in private and religious schools.
Finally, as the father of a special needs child, I am concerned that children similar to my own will not only be discriminated against by the scholarship organizations who receive the lion’s share of any donations that may be made, but that the further diversion of public funds from public education – where most of the children with special needs are educated – will make it that much more difficult for the state to meet it’s legal liabilities to accommodate these children and ensure that they have the same opportunity to excel as the next child.
Public revenues should be used for the broadest possible public good. We have a rich history in this state of supporting public education because we have always known that it is one of the keys to ensuring long term economic growth and prosperity for all of us and to also create good and engaged citizens.
There is much that can and needs to be done to improve the quality of the education that our children receive; I hope that we never stop working together to do that. Early childhood development programs, nutrition programs, medical health programs, investments in new and exciting technology, building aid and targeting more education funding to poor communities are all very worthwhile investments that we can and should consider. Diverting scare public resources to subsidize families who wish to send their children to private or religious school should not be one of our priorities at this point in time.
Please vote Ought To Pass on HB370 and encourage your colleagues in the Senate to join with the House of Representatives and send this to the Governor for her signature.