Commissioner Edelblut took the unusual step yesterday of writing a letter to Rep. Umberger, chair of the House Finance Division II Committee, enumerating changes he would like to see in the new proposed amendment to SB 193 Education Savings Account (ESA, commonly called voucher) program. Here is the letter.
The main feature of the amendment is the damage it would do to school districts, eliminating the “stabilization fund” provision in the bill that passed the House and shifting virtually the full financial burden of subsidizing private and homeschool education to New Hampshire school districts and taxpayers. (The Union Leader had a good understandable article on this and Reaching Higher NH has just released its detailed analysis.)
Normally, you would expect the education commissioner to express concern about the impact on the school districts he has been appointed to support. Instead, Commissioner Edelblut advocates for expanding the program and the cost to school districts, saying that it will “help students on the margin and who otherwise are not having success in a traditional education setting.”
While the amendment eliminated first grade eligibility (Rep. Ken Wyler saying at one meeting, “Students should experience public school before deciding it doesn’t work for them”), Commissioner Edelblut wants to add it back.
The commissioner proposes that siblings be exempted from the district level caps that, in the new amendment, limit the number of students who can receive ESAs each year in any one district or school. So concern is not actually so much about success in school. The school district would be losing revenue and potentially increasing taxes for the convenience of the parents.
(The truth is, parents move their kids for a variety of reasons. It could be for greater academic challenge. But it’s also to play sports, or because they would rather be in a larger or smaller school, be with friends, get religious instruction, or to attend school closer to home. Local taxpayers will not consider these good reasons to subsidize a move from schools they are already paying for. )
But the commissioner’s proposal to exempt siblings from the district participation caps is particularly interesting because, while the bill’s supporters say they do not anticipate many children using the program – and definitely not bumping into the district caps – Commissioner Edelblut clearly plans for the voucher program to bump into the caps, inflicting maximum damage on at least some school districts.
Finally, Commissioner Edelblut wants to allow a form of double-dipping in which a student could receive both an ESA grant and also a voucher from the 2012 Education Tax Credit program. As far as I can tell, no other state allows double dipping. Leaving open the opportunity to stack two vouchers together had looked like an oversight in the original bill. Now it looks like a goal. The result could be very large financial benefits to a small number of students who, unlike most other students, would be receiving state financial support in excess of that provided by the adequacy formula.
New Hampshire’s education commissioner should be looking out for public school students but his real priority is private school choice and this puts our schools in a very vulnerable position. New Hampshire public education will apparently be on the defensive as long as Mr. Edelblut is in place.