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Here’s the big picture on SB 193, the voucher bill

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We understand that the House Finance Committee is likely to amend SB 193 to limit the bill’s impact on the state budget.  One result will be that local property tax payers will bear the full burden of sending students to private and home schools.  The other is that New Hampshire will have begun an inevitable multi-year process of expanding a second voucher program, as is happening with the first one from 2012.

Here, from the Washington Post, is a glimpse of the national drum to which local sponsors of SB 193 are marching:

ESAs are personal accounts created by a state for parents to use for a range of educational costs — including private school tuition and fees, as well as private tutoring — with state education funds. The trend in ESAs is that there is no means test, part of a larger shift in some parts of the school choice movement from advocating for choice being for low-income students to escape failing traditional public schools to choice being for all families…..

“My personal opinion is that the 12,000 or 13,000 government-run, unionized, politicized monopolies — we call them school districts — is not the best governance model for the world we’re moving towards.” — Jeb Bush

If you are not familiar with Education Savings Accounts, you should be. During a recent three-day seminar in Indian Wells, Calif., hosted by the billionaire Koch brothers, ESAs were announced as one of their identified legislative priorities of 2018. And they have already gotten started. The Koch’s 501(c)4, Americans for Prosperity, is pouring millions into an effort to defeat a November ballot referendum to overturn the expansion of ESAs in Arizona.

Last year, the Arizona legislature narrowly passed a bill making ESAs eventually available to all K-12 students in the state — despite reports of lax oversight and fraudulent spending in the state’s small existing program. Following the passage of the bill, a scrappy group of parents and teachers came together to form Save Our Schools Arizona, gathering enough signatures to put ESAs up for a public vote. The Kochs have fought to shut down the referendum in the courts and on the airwaves ever since.

We’ve seen how high a priority SB 193 is for Koch and American’s for Prosperity here in New Hampshire, testifying to committees that schools REALLY DO save money when their students leave for schools, and even send out mailers extolling the virtues of legislators who support the bill (Americans for Prosperity going for broke on SB 193, the voucher bill)

But SB 913 is not about serving a few needy kids in New Hampshire:

Of all the various school privatization programs, Educational Savings Accounts are the most market-based and the least accountable. What they ultimately do is reduce society’s obligation to educate our nation’s youth to the dropping of tax dollars onto a debit card…..

There is no obligation that the curriculum that is used to teach students who use ESAs to attend private schools be developmentally appropriate, challenging or even accurate. Although a few states require parents to promise that their children receive instruction in reading, grammar, mathematics, science and social studies, what content is taught and what is learned is immaterial…..

….Jonathan Beckam of Step Up for Students described how his organization, with the help of “two big companies,” created “the largest online marketplace for ESAs.” Here is how he described his work:

“So from a family’s perspective, it’s really like an Amazon shopping experience. I can log on to this private marketplace. I can see thousands of products and services that are preapproved for acceptable use for my program. I can click into those products and get detailed product information and availability for it. I can add it to my shopping cart and check out using my ESA funds directly.”

The opportunity to get off this train is now.  Let members of the House Finance Committee and your own representative know how you feel.


4 Comments

  1. Tammy Fareed (Hollis SB) says:

    Hi,

    I am an elected school board member in my town. I am struggling to take the most data-based, fact-based, approach to understanding proposed legislation in NH respecting public schools. I was hoping your newsletters would assist me to become more informed because clearly you are doing the hard work of researching these issues.

    However, when your reports include “funded by the billionaire Koch brothers,” you telegraph very bluntly a partisan message I cannot ethically reference. Personally, I am not in favor of the Koch brothers’ agenda as I understand it, but I cannot quote your reports when I want to share information with my town’s taxpayers because plainly your reports are partisan and that would be rebuffed for good reason by many of my town’s voters.

    I don’t blame you for taking the approach you’re taking. But I can’t utilize it and so I request you unsubscribe me from your distribution lists.

    Thank you, and good luck with your efforts to support fair and universal public education in New Hampshire.

    T.F.

    >

    • ANHPE says:

      I appreciate your note, Tammy, and share your view about referencing the Kochs. I think you’ll see that, for the reasons you cite, I seldom if ever do that. However, in this particular case, it seems necessary. It’s not a matter of wanting to mobilize partisanship in response to an enemy but of trying to convey a bedrock reality in this particular situation.

      This WaPo piece cites a Koch sponsored national conference promoting and strategizing about ESAs and describes the national push for ESAs. And New Hampshire State Senator John Reagan publically cites a conference he attended in suburban Virginia two summers ago as the genesis of SB 193.

      There’s nothing wrong with that. But as we debate various details about limiting the bill’s impact on schools, I do feel it’s important to understand that, at the end of the day, New Hampshire is just a cork on this much larger wave and to understand where, if SB 193 passes, all this leads.

      Having said all this, I’m tired of all the Koch brothers references as well and don’t expect to join in again.

  2. FranT says:

    Still don’t understand how they get around our restriction on public funds for religious schools. Tried it last time and it failed the smell test in the NH State Supreme court. What’s different now Also, what happening w homeschool parents being accountable to actually educate their kids?

    • ANHPE says:

      Actually, the NH Supreme Court challenge to the 2012 voucher bill failed on a technicality so legislators are saying this time, “Let the courts decide.” Homeschoolers probably do anticipate that accountability will eventually follow if they take state money but that is not part of this bill.

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