I participated with other supporters of public education in a series of press conferences yesterday. Here is the coverage by Suzanne Laurent for the Portsmouth Herald:
PORTSMOUTH — A coalition of state educators, taxpayers and concerned citizens are calling for the repeal of what they call the “misguided Bradley-O’Brien education voucher law.”
At a press conference Thursday morning in front of Portsmouth Public Library, the coalition asked the public to hold state senators to task to see that House Bill 370 is passed. HB 370 would repeal the education tax credit law passed last year over Gov. John Lynch’s veto. It passed Tuesday in the House and goes before the Senate on April 18.
The law allows businesses to provide scholarships for non-public schools and, in return, the businesses receive a tax credit.
Opponents, in calling it an voucher system, say it diverts taxpayer funds from public schools into an account for private and religious schools. The organization appointed by the state to administer the scholarship program is a California-based group called The Alliance for the Separation of Schools and State, known in New Hampshire as The Network for Educational Opportunity.
“Last year, I started a group called Defending New Hampshire Public Education when I saw all the anti-public education legislation being proposed in the Legislature,” said Bill Duncan of New Castle.
The group has since changed its name to Advancing New Hampshire Public Education.
“We’re now seeing how little support there is on the one hand (for the voucher program) and how poorly planned and implemented the program is,” Duncan said. “Businesses didn’t support this bill when it was being considered, and now that it has become law, businesses aren’t contributing the money needed to make the program work.”
Duncan said that while there is $3.4 million worth of tax credits available to repay businesses for their voucher donations on almost a dollar-per-dollar basis, only $140,000 worth of those tax credits has been claimed so far, mostly by one business.
“The problem is that voters in University of New Hampshire polls opposed using state money for vouchers to send kids to private school and businesses don’t support it,” Duncan said.
He added the only active scholarship organization that raises this money is a California group, the Association for the Separation of School and State.
“Its purpose is to shut down public schools and replace them with private, religious and home schools,” he said. “It’s an outside organization with an outside agenda and there’s no oversight that would prevent that kind of kidnapping of our program and public money. The bulk of the kids involved so far are applying to small, religious, mostly creationist schools in the state.”
Duncan said that brings a challenge to the separation of church and state. “We’re challenging that in court on April 26,” he said. “We hope both that challenge, and most immediately, the repeal bill will prevail.”
HB 370 was voted on by the Senate Health, Education and Human Services committee Tuesday and passed 3-2. It goes to the floor April 18.
“If all the senators who opposed the law last year and are back in the Senate voted the same way, this year, the repeal would pass,” Duncan said.
One is Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, who voted against the law last year but, according to Duncan, is flipping her stance.
Scott McGilvary, president of NEA-NH, spoke Thursday.
“The current voucher scheme will take as much as $90 million out of New Hampshire’s public schools over the next 10 years,” he said. “I believe this is a betrayal of fiduciary responsibilities and the public trust by those who enacted this law.”
McGilvray said the 16,000 NEA-NH members do not believe the state’s citizens want public tax dollars rightfully owed to the state diverted and given to non-public institutions.“There is no provision for holding the private, religious and home schools accountable for their educational results in the current voucher law,” he said. “In tough economic times, education is an easy target for budget cuts, but nothing could be more shortsighted.”
Marjorie Taft, a retired Newmarket elementary school teacher from Stratham, said she cares about public schools in New Hampshire “because they do a good job and deserve funding.”
“I’m concerned that diverting state funding for these waiver systems could have a really negative impact on our public schools,” she said.
The Democratic Party launched a petition Thursday morning to repeal the law. It can be found at http://www.NHDP.org/protect-nh-public-schools.