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Union Leader editorial blames Rep Kurk for making changes to SB 193, the voucher bill

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A misinformed Union Leader editorial personalizes its criticism of the changes in SB 193 and does it on the basis of important misinformation.

It is a simple but powerful concept.

The state’s duty to fund the opportunity for an adequate education lies with the students, and not just with the local public schools where those students live.

It’s not clear what this sentence means but the State’s constitutional duty lies with the State.  The State implements that responsibility through its system of public schools.  SB 193 side steps that obligation.

The New Hampshire Senate has already approved Senate Bill 193, which would give parents greater control over state dollars meant to help educate their children. The House has twice approved the bill.

So why are the House Finance Committee and its chairman, Rep. Neal Kurk, mucking up the bill?

The assertion that the State should give parents control over state dollars is important.  Advocates do not usually state it so clearly, but it is central to the school choice debate.  Let’s have the discussion on that basis.  Should the State be able to delegate to parents its constitutional responsibility to expend state revenues and local property taxes?

The committee is scheduled today to take up an amendment put forward by Kurk that would dramatically cut back the Education Savings Account program. Kurk says it’s about money, but it’s really about education policy.

Kurk believes that if even 1 percent of New Hampshire public school students take advantage of the new opportunities available under SB 193, it would be too disruptive. Yet the state’s own numbers show the program would only cost the state $705,000.

Actually, the amendment was put forward by Reps. Umberger, Ladd, Kurk and Wolf.  And Rep. Umberger was clearly in the lead, attempting in the amendment to remedy criticisms put forward during weeks of work sessions held by Finance Division II, which she chairs.  Rep. Ladd has been talking about many of these changes for weeks.

What is actually happening here is that the House Finance Committee is carrying out its mission, standing guard over the General Fund.  The fact that the bill – with no fiscal analysis attached – would be referred to House Finance after the January 3 House vote gave House members the opportunity to vote on the bill knowing it would get the close financial review a large and complex bill like this deserved.

So, while the department of education provided a limited stab at some numbers, the Finance Committee staff (the Legislative Budget Assistant office) did the detailed financial modeling the bill required.  It was on that basis that Rep. Umberger and the amendment authors, all of whom appear to support the bill, reexamined it.

We do not support the bill, and definitely do not support the shift of the financial burden from the State to local property taxpayers, but it is clear that the House Finance Committee has been doing its job.

Local school districts would only receive less state aid if they had fewer students, and the bill has a circuit breaker to limit the impact.

The proposed amendment does add circuit breakers but they are insufficient to prevent serious damage to school districts and increases in local tax rates.

SB 193 is a good bill, and fits well within the state’s budget. The House Finance Committee should stop second guessing education policy decisions.

House Finance is attempting to make that a true statement.

If it can’t resist meddling, the full House should reject its interference and send a clean bill to Gov. Chris Sununu.

Source: Kurk’s folly: Complicating school choice bill | New Hampshire

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