SB 193 would create a universal voucher program under which the State would take the adequacy funding that would have gone to a school and grant it, minus 5% administrative cost, to any student who’d been in school for a year (plus any kindergarten and first grade student) to use toward private or home school expenses. Here is the SB 193 coverage provided by Reaching Higher NH.
As a Reaching Higher NH analysis has shown, there is no upper limit on how much this program could cost New Hampshire school districts. The Union Leader coverage of that analysis identified some of the initial arguments on both sides of the question of the financial impact of SB 193:
Depending on how many families take advantage of the new program, public schools collectively could lose anywhere from 111 to 555 teaching positions, according to data released Monday by Reaching Higher New Hampshire….
“We looked at all the school districts from across the state and modeled how much state aid the districts would lose if between 1 percent and 5 percent of the districts’ students selected a voucher,” said Dan Vallone, director of engagement at Reaching Higher N.H.
The organization used the state’s base adequacy aid for 2018 as the per pupil amount districts would lose when a student’s family chooses the private school option.
“This is a conservative figure,” said Vallone, “since the districts would also lose most differentiated aid, such as state aid provided for students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.”
If just 1 percent of the state’s 175,770 students in grades K-12 decide to take advantage of the new program and go to a private school, that’s a $6.3 million loss to public education statewide, rising to $32 million at the highest estimate of 5 percent.
Kate Baker, executive director of the N.H. Children’s Scholarship Fund, said her experience suggests that the number of students applying will be well below 1 percent. For the past four years, Baker has run a program designed to assist families with private school education through scholarships funded by private businesses, whose donations are encouraged by education tax credits against the Business Enterprise and Business Profits taxes.
While 1 percent of the statewide student population would be around 1,800 students, Baker said her program, now in its fifth year, has only 260 participants.
“They said that program was going to drain public education, too,” said Rick Ladd, chairman of the House Education Committee, who will preside over the Nov. 8 vote.
“I think it’s more scare tactics than anything else, and the facts reflect that,” he said. “Overall, people are satisfied with their local schools. It’s convenient; they know the teachers; they know the culture. But there are some who are going to leave for various reasons, whether it be discipline problems, bullying, special education or something else. But it is a very, very small minority.”
Several important points stand out.
Potential size of the voucher program
Kate Baker says there is little interest among students (“only 260 participants”) but she has been reporting that she gets over 1,000 applications each year. It is actually the level of public support that has limited the program size.
The current voucher program, passed in 2012, anticipated $6 million per year in business donations but last year got less than $400,00, 8% of anticipated levels. It is funded by a generous business tax credit that makes the contribution virtually cost free. SB 193 provisions could have been written as an amendment to the existing voucher program. That would have served the “very, very small minority” Rick Ladd talks about, but the dramatic expansion sought by school choice advocates would not have been possible.
SB 193 is the fix. It gives much larger vouchers. Families are eligible regardless of income. And the program needs no business or public support to make it work. It is hard to predict the size of a voucher program but it is clearly intended to be as large as possible.
The size of the voucher
The size of a student’s voucher would be related to the size of the adequacy funding the school district would have received from the State. A school district’s adequacy payment would be reduced by $3,636 per year for each student who left the district. (95% of that would go to the student’s family; 5% to administrative costs.) If the student qualified for a free or reduced price lunch, the district would lose another $1,818, or $5,454. If she has an IEP, there would be another $1,956; and another $711 if she’s an English language learner. For a child who qualifies in all those categories, unlikely as that is, the district would lose $8,121 to the voucher program.
Around 70% of the students in the existing voucher program qualify for a free or reduced lunch. Under SB 193, those families would receive an annual voucher in excess of $5,000, compared to the mandated average of $2,500 under the current program.
Impact on school districts
The potential statewide impact is significant but it will not be spread evenly across districts. Manchester will probably lose many more students proportionately than Bedford, for instance. And rural districts already weakened by demographically driven enrollment decline will probably lose even more students to a generous voucher program. ConVal Regional High School, for instance, went from almost 1,200 10 years ago to 737 this year and is forced to consider program cuts and become a more vulnerable educational institution as a result.
In Manchester, where 57% of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch and 11% are English language learners, the average lost adequacy per student could be well in excess of $5,000. If 128 students, 1%, left with vouchers and the average adequacy loss were only $5,000, Manchester’s adequacy payment from the State would be reduced by $640,700 each year into the future. If another 1% left the next year, a new stream of $640,000 per year costs would start.
This will add up fast.
An adequate education?
Since SB 193 provides a full sized voucher to pay for educational services for homeschoolers, the door has opened wide to a new kind of “non-school school” like the BigFish Learning Community in Dover. There are no standards or certifications for groups like this and no material accountability written into SB193 so it will be difficult to know that funds lost by school districts will be contributing to providing New Hampshire students with an adequate education.