Senators Peggy Gilmour (D, Hollis) and Molly Kelly (D, Keene) were eloquent at the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee today, making the case that the voucher tax credit lacks oversight and accountability, takes money from public schools to send it to private schools that do not promise a better education and is bad tax policy. But their arguments fell on deaf Republican ears. After a 16 minute debate, captured below by Granite State Progress (thank you!), the committee voted 3-2 along party lines to recommend Inexpedient to Legislate on HB 370.
Sen. Gilmour recommended that the scholarship organization, Network for Educational Opportunity, put its energy into raising scholarship funds in the normal way, without a large tax credit subsidy. She was impressed with a private school student who testified but wondered why the family was waiting for the state voucher program while not applying for the school’s own scholarship program. She went on to point out that the Senate had just passed a one page expansion of the R&D tax credit while the education tax credit required 9 convoluted pages of legislation. Sen. Gilmour compared the lack of oversight and accountability in the voucher program with the very successful Community Development Tax Credit, with its lower (75%) tax credit and high level of oversight, accountability and credibility.
Sen. Kelley was especially animated about the erroneous implication that the private schools the kids would attend were better than New Hampshire’s own public schools. There’s are always many ways to improve, she said, but that’s where we should be putting our attention and money, not into private schools. In her statement on the vote, Sen. Kelly said, “This bill repeals a private school voucher program that diverts public funds away from our public schools and directs private, non-profit corporations to allocate taxpayer dollars with no oversight or accountability…” She went on to say:
“The Voucher Program became law last year when the super-majority Republican Legislature overrode then-Governor Lynch’s veto of SB372. It was a misguided venture then and the same is true today. I voted against this bill last year and I will be consistent and vote for the repeal this year. A bad policy is bad policy, no matter if it’s law or not.”
Ensuring a quality education for all of our students must be a legislative priority. I will not vote to undermine the education of the nearly 200,000 students that attend NH public schools in favor of the few who will have the opportunity to attend private and/or religious schools. At a time when the legislature has levied record budget cuts to our public colleges and universities — including Keene State — it is irresponsible to appropriate and direct millions in public money to private schools.”
Sen. Reagan (R, Deerfield) made the point he frequently does about how bad New Hampshire, and all American, public schools are…falling in the world rankings, etc. (a frequently repeated myth, discussed here and here). He used another of his speaking opportunities to make the point that the businesses donating scholarships are obviously successful because they have taxes to pay and, as such, are well qualified to allocate some of the State’s $11 million dollar budget. (Don’t believe me? Go to minute 11:30 in the video.)
Sen. Sanborn (R, Bedford) offered the non-sequitur that the businesses have the right to make their own choices about where to contribute money, possibly making the implicit assumption that the businesses also have the right to an almost dollar-for-dollar tax-payer subsidy for those choices.
The chair, Sen. Stiles (R, Hampton), moderated the meeting and voted with the Republican majority.
The bill will probably be brought to the Senate floor when the Senate returns to session on April18. Voucher repeal is also in HB 2, the budget just passed by the House, so it will be a matter for negotiation in June.