The argument for the school scholarship or “choice” program is that we need to create “choice” for students. As a mother of four children, my children have gone to public, private and been home schooled. I have never lacked choice. We are not wealthy, but education is a family priority and our primary investment. While others save for retirement, we invest in our children’s education. That is our choice.
Some may argue that we need to create “competition” for our public schools so that they will improve. This is another argument for the “School Choice” scholarship program. Competition assumes a free market – which is defined as “an economic market in which supply and demand are not regulated or are regulated with only minor restrictions.” Public schools do not operate in a free market. They are highly regulated and must take all students regardless of the student’s abilities or interests. It will never be fair for us to advocate for competition between public and private schools. This is not an even playing field and never will be.
There are those who will say that public education does not provide choice. I will disagree based upon my own experience. My children have been able to test out of classes, skip grades, and have duel enrollment at NH Tech while still being in high school. As an innovative alternative learning opportunity, public schooled students can access ELOs -Extended learning opportunities ELOs provide “the primary acquisition of knowledge and skills through instruction or study outside of the traditional classroom methodology, including, but not limited, to
- Community service
- Independent study
- Online courses
- Performing groups
- Private instruction”
(NH Department of Education)
Public schools do provide choice for various learning styles and interests through ELOs.
What advantages do private schools have over public school? Private schools are nonprofits and can raise money from anyone at any time. They do not have to beg the legislature for funding. Individuals or businesses who give money to private schools get a charitable contribution deduction on their taxes. Our government does not tax private school property or buildings. Private schools are not required to follow state mandates or have educational oversight. They are not required to accept all students. Do we also need to give private schools more tax breaks and public money through this “School Choice” scholarship program?
The “School Choice” scholarship program suggests that I give the tax dollars I owe to the State of NH- as a business- to a scholarship program, instead of to the State of NH. I have pledged my tax “credits” to projects before. The Grappone Conference Center is one example. The difference is my tax dollars invested in that community asset benefit thousands of people every month. My tax dollars invested in the “School Choice” program has the potential (if fully funded) of benefiting less than 1% of NH students. As a business person, I see this as a poor investment.
Unlike the CDFA with a local board of esteemed community members and transparent lists of well-known donors, which administered my tax credits for the Grappone Conference Center, the “School Choice” scholarships are administered by an out-of-state nonprofit. This nonprofit currently calls itself the Network for Educational Opportunity after changing their name from the Alliance for the Separation of School and State. The board members live in California. The President lives in CT. This nonprofit has lost money for years according to its IRS form 990 reports. Its public support has declined to just barely over the minimum of 33.3% according to 990 Section C Computation of Public Support Percentage. During all these years of losses, the president of the board has continued to make $60,000 a year. Is this the type of fiscal respon-sibility we want in NH to hand out our tax dollars as scholarships? What about accountability and oversight? Our public schools are accountable to NH taxpayers. But this “scholarship organization” is not. This is the wrong choice for distributing NH education tax dollars.
Let me discuss some background information:
- In NH, we are experiencing a decline in our student population. Our public and private schools have been impacted by the declining student population. For public schools, this decline in enrollment has not reduced fixed expenses. The cost to maintain our facilities is constant regardless of student enrollment. Pulling more students out of our public schools and sending them to private schools does not reduce costs to local school districts- it increases them—less revenue coming in— overhead costs unchanged.
- In addition, NH has created 18 Charter Schools. According to the NH Department of Education, “Charter schools are public schools. They operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools but agree to greater accountability.” I have two charter schools in my school district and the schools currently service around 60 students. Students who leave public school to go to Charter Schools are another revenue loss to the local public schools.
Saying we need competition between public and private schools is like comparing a homeless shelter competing with a hotel. Both have different purposes, serve different populations and have different assets and funding mechanisms.
If what we truly wish to accomplish is to improve our public schools so that they are the best choice for all students, we need to fully fund our public and charter schools. We need to reduce the regulation in our traditional public schools as we have in our successful charter schools. We should not be creating another “school choice” program when we haven’t even fully funded what we have. It is fiscally irresponsible. We are downshifting more expenses to our local school district with this latest school program.
Let me review- this “School Choice” program will cost the Dept of Revenue to administer. There will be no oversight of the nonprofit distributing money. There are no measures of accountability as to how or when the program will be deemed successful or a failure. It diverts my tax dollars owed to the State of NH to an out-of-town nonprofit with a poor fiscal track record. This program does not support the intent of Article 83 in the NH constitution that we “cherish our public school.” It costs the local school district money. It has no long term strategic plan for success.
This program is not the answer to our education challenges in NH.
Fiscal incentives from the government like “school choice” are not necessary for good parents to make the best choices for their children’s education.
The key to success in any type of education is parental involvement. It costs nothing more than time and interest. That is why I am here today asking you to honor your oath to the NH Constitution to “cherish” our public schools and vote down this bill disguised as “choice” which diverts the tax dollars businesses owe to NH to educate the few, with no accountability, at the expense of many, many NH children.