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SB 193 punishes schools that we should be helping

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Governor Sununu announced his support for SB 193 yesterday, conditioned upon limiting the students who would qualify.  From the Concord Monitor coverage:

The amendment championed by Sununu would narrow that range to four categories, Ladd explained at the event: those in families with income at or below 300 percent of the household poverty level; those in underperforming schools; those in an individualized education program; and those who have unsuccessfully applied for tuition assistance at a charter school lottery.

Though some critics have called for a strict income cap at the 300 percent poverty level, Ladd clarified Tuesday that the four eligibility categories would operate independently – as long as a student qualified in one of the other areas, the income level is not necessary.

But Ladd argued the categories are narrowly tailored enough to achieve the same effect.

“Those are not caps as we’d like to see in the traditional mode,” he said. “But they serve to limit and reduce students that are eligible for the program.”

There are a couple of points that could be made about this targeting proposal (won’t it lead to inflated charter applications?), but  the real damage of the bill is in the targeting of low performing schools.  The factors that go into characterizing a school as low performing are complex and, in New Hampshire, not settled yet so the current provision in SB 193 for targeting level 1 and 2 schools that have “shown no academic achievement or growth for two consecutive years” is too vague to be usable.

But more importantly, the bill would take money from just the schools that need it most.  With diligent support and investment from the New Hampshire Department of Education, local educators and school leaders, many of New Hampshire’s lower performing schools made big improvements, from Parker Varney in Manchester to schools in Milton, Franklin, Littleton, Somersworth, Concord, Pittsfield and other towns.  That should continue to be the State’s priority.

Vouchers as part of a real plan for achieving gains in lower performing schools is one thing but the message SB 193 sends is not about support for improving our neighborhood schools most in need.  The message is that if you live in a community trying to make good schools on a low tax base, you are on your own.  You are probably losing enrollment to demographic trends but costs do not go down.  Now the State will further reduce your revenue and send that money to parents to take their children out of your schools.

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