HB 1636, amended to include SB 193, will come before the House again on Thursday, May 10th. It contains the version of SB 193 that the Senate passed a year ago, a bill that served as a starting point for 15 months of work by House Education and Finance committees.
The Governor is putting the Legislature though this extended process but there is nothing left to be said. Education and Finance Republican leadership, including the House members most committed to school choice, have already invested their best efforts in this bill. The best a Committee of Conference could do is bring back a bill the House has already voted on twice. (Here is further coverage.)
There are other elements of HB 1636, but here is an overview of the school choice provisions of the bill (without the benefit of legislative staff analysis but using estimates worked up quickly by Reaching Higher NH:
- Every child in New Hampshire is eligible for an ESA grant. While targeting grants to low income students is normally considered a political necessity, the Senate version of SB 193, included now in HB 1836 includes no income limits or targeting of any other kind. The impact of this on taxpayers and enrollment in New Hampshire has not been fully analyzed because it has never been proposed before. But Reaching Higher NH provides a preliminary look at the damage here.
Significant new state funding for students not in public schools. HB 1636 would give ESA grants to PreK and kindergarten private school students who have never been to public schools. And all 6,000 homeschoolers in New Hampshire would automatically be eligible for ESA grants. This provision alone would impose on the State a new education funding obligation that could amount to $9 million in the first year and grow every year as those students continued in private schools and new students joined them.
- Increased impact on local taxpayers. There are no caps or limits of any kind on the numbers of grants that could be made by the ESA program. And there is no stabilization fund or other state commitment to reducing the impact on local taxpayers, so this version of SB 193 would place no upper limit on the impact on local taxpayers.
- Big fees to a pre-selected private group to administer the program. The bill allocates 5% of all education funds expended under the program to a pre-selected private group. There is no RFP or other selection process.
- No quality control on schools. State education funds could go to any private school or tutor (loosely defined) in New Hampshire, accredited or not.
- No assessments or accountability. There is no mechanism for legislative accountability. No assessments are required to determine whether students are being afforded the opportunity for an adequate education.
- No provision of equitable access for students with special needs. As a practical matter, students with special needs would have no access to the program.
- The program would take effect immediately and have no sunset provision. The program would take effect in 60 days and impact budgets already in place.
There are these and many more clear problems with HB 1636 and no real opportunity to write a better bill than the House has already rejected.
Please communicate to your representative: The House should not send HB 1636 to a Committee of Conference but should vote Non-Concur.