When I was a little boy, we lost my father to cancer. Not long after, my family lost everything else too and we struggled to make ends meet. We were always thinking about getting through the week and end of the month. But for all its challenges, my childhood taught me empathy, grit, and drive; drive to make a better life for myself. I knew I only needed the opportunity.
That opportunity came in the form of a public education. The one thing we never had to worry about was whether I would get a great education and a hot lunch at school. I made the most it and have made a better life for my family.
As a parent now, I followed closely the efforts of New Hampshire Republicans to pass Senate Bill 193, which would establish one of the most comprehensive school voucher programs in the country. It would siphon money from our public schools and divert them to private, religious and home schools.
Fiscally responsible constituents would be alarmed at the financial implications of the school voucher bill. According to the legislative staff, it would have siphoned off $100 million over the first 11 years from public schools to send 2,000 children to private, religious and home schools. As expensive as that is, Sen. Dan Innis voted for a far more sweeping version twice, which would more than double those costs.
You can imagine the impact: a reduction in public school quality and big increase in local property taxes. Despite all that spending to privatize more of our education system, there is no anticipated improvement in achievement. According to studies like the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, private schools were not better than public in producing higher achievement.
The bottom line is that the school voucher bill significantly increases the costs of education in New Hampshire and puts the burden on local property taxpayers. Don’t take my word for it; take Republican fiscal hawk and House Finance Chairman Neil Kurk’s who said, “this bill downshifts $99 million to local property tax payers in ways that they will not be able to avoid by reducing expenses. I was not elected to downshift money on my constituents.” A few Republicans stood with him and House Democrats to defeat the bill by a slim margin. Fiscal responsibility prevailed.
Sen. Innis and his colleagues have pledged to try again. Innis said in a recent op-ed that he believes in school choice for all New Hampshire children. However, the vouchers would not cover the full cost of private school tuitions. Therefore, the only families that can take advantage of these vouchers and attend private schools would be people who can afford a few thousand dollars difference between the voucher and tuition.
The results of this voucher bill are entirely predictable. Children from families who can afford private education could pay less by applying a voucher to their tuition bill. Children from families who cannot afford to pay thousands will remain in public schools that would now face budget shortfalls. It’s actually even worse because private schools can deny admissions to students with disabilities, excluding them entirely from the “choices” vouchers give their fellow students. That makes education opportunity less equal.
These reverse Robin Hood policies of taking resources and opportunities from lower income families to give to wealthier ones is a non-starter. The high costs of living on the Seacoast are already impacting our seniors, working families and small businesses. New Hampshire Republicans should stop pushing a radical bill that would significantly increase our spending, raise property taxes, and hurt our public schools.
We are proud of our public schools. On the Seacoast, they are without a doubt, one of the best draws we have to attracting working families to live and work here. I believe Sen. Innis’ support for defunding them and prompting tax increases is an untenable position to hold as our senator. It does not reflect our values or interests.
We must protect public education and ensure they can continue to create opportunities for children regardless of their circumstances, just as they did for Sen. Innis and me. That is why I have chosen to run for state representative and why I support Dr. Tom Sherman as our next state senator. We will work with our educators, not against them, to create real school choice through more learning options within our public schools.
Hampton’s Tom Loughman is a Democratic candidate for the New Hampshire State House in Rockingham District 21 (Hampton).