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Likely Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee discusses his shifiting position on the Common Core on Meet the Press

We frequently observe in these pages that the basis for opposition to the Common Core tends to be political convictions rather than educational objections. New Hampshire educators who work with the Common Core in their classrooms, for instance strongly favor the standards.  The argument from opponents, on the other hand, tends to center on federal overreach and Gates Foundation funding. (more…)

Donations In Name Only; N.H. Court Isn’t Fooled by Tax Credit | Valley News

No need for commentary.  This Valley News editorial says it all:

Supporters of New Hampshire’s new education tax credit law claim to be shocked and appalled that it has been found unconstitutional by Superior Court Judge John M. Lewis and promise to appeal. We’re inclined to think they should have seen it coming.

The law, passed last year when no conservative crusade was too quixotic to pass muster in the then-Republican-dominated Legislature, allows businesses to claim tax credits equal to 85 percent of amounts they donate to state-designated “scholarship organizations.” These, in turn, are permitted to award scholarships up to $2,500 to low-income students to attend private schools, as well as public schools outside their home district, or for home schooling.

A parent paying $12,000 in private school tuition is “furious” that NH won’t help

Parents, student aid agencies seeking answers…” blared the Union Leader on its front page today, featuring the financial pain inflicted on parents:

The decision means Litchfield mother Kim Nichols won’t be eligible for a scholarship to help pay for her son to attend a Catholic school in Nashua.

Nichols, who pays more than $12,000 in yearly tuition to Bishop Guertin High School, said she was “furious” with the judge’s decision.

The scholarship organization NEO says it has over 1,000 more such applicants.  The only surprise is why there aren’t more.  The program is meant for public school students, but few have applied.  So NEO has been working with religious schools since the law passed a year ago, recruiting parents to apply for the state tuition subsidy.  As a result, applications are primarily for kids who are already in religious schools.

Maybe the Union Leader will now do a front page story on how Manchester’s Bakersville Elementary School is successfully reaching hundreds of low income kids today…

New Hampshire court strikes down state funding for religious schools

Today’s Strafford County Superior Court decision declared unconstitutional the provisions of voucher tax credit law that fund religious schools.  That portion of the program will have to shut down immediately.  The program will, however, still be able to provide funding to secular private schools, out-of-district public schools and home schools.  However, 70% of the students must come directly from public schools and very voucher few applicants do.

The court decision confirmed that the law did, indeed, divert tax payments to religious schools.  Addressing our key contention that granting tax credits in return for donations amounted to the expenditure of public funds, the Court said:

“The phrases ‘public funds,’ or ‘money raised by taxation,’ focuses the Court’s inquiry not on when the government’s technical ‘ownership’ of funds or monies arises, but on when, or at what point, the public’s interest fairly arises in how funds or monies are spent. The Court concludes that the interest of New Hampshire taxpayers in regard to challenging the legality of legislation such as the program at bar does not arise only after money is deposited in the New Hampshire treasury….

“….A taxpayer’s interest is also not dependent on the number of hands the money passes through. A taxpayer’s concern arises when a large portion of the donated funds are, as here, realized very much through a tax credit….

“This Court concludes that the program uses “public funds,” or “money raised by taxation,” and thus the program implicates Part I, Article 6, and Part II, Article 83. The New Hampshire tax code is the avenue used for producing and directing much money into the program. Contrary to the State’s assertion that “the government has not set aside revenue for a specific purpose,” see State’s Trial Mem. 17, it appears to the Court that is indeed exactly what the legislature has done. Money that would otherwise be flowing to the government is diverted for the very specific purpose of providing scholarships to students.”

Finally, the Court granted an injunction prohibiting the State from paying religious schools with these tax credit funded donations, saying:

“The plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief is GRANTED to the extent that, effective immediately, the State and all those involved with the program’s realization and implementation are enjoined from proceeding to allow scholarships, as well as any associated tax credits, to be approved, granted, or applied, or in any way further carried forth or realized, in regard to, or toward, or covering educational expenses of “schools or institutions of any religious sect or denomination” within the meaning of Part II, Article 83.”

Supporters of the voucher program will probably appeal this ruling to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.  As you will see, the opinion is well reasoned and should stand up well to Supreme Court scrutiny.  If the decision is appealed, there is no way to know when the Supreme Court would rule.

If you want to know what the new Common Core standards are all about, listen to this morning’s edition of NHPR’s The Exchange

The first three installments of NHPR’s series on the Common Core did not reflect my own experience of how New Hampshire teachers have engaged the move to the Common Core State Standards (I discuss that here), but today is a whole different story.  This morning’s report on the new “Smarter Balanced” test the kids will be taking characterizes the test and the challenges well.

And today’s  broadcast of The Exchange did a great service to the State in explaining what the Common Core is and how our schools are experiencing this big change.

NHPR education reporter Sam Evans-Brown was clear and knowledgeable.  Guest Nicole Heimarck, Director of Curriculum and Professional Development for SAU 39 (Amherst, Mont Vernon and Souhegan) and Debra Armsfield, a former Principal and the Director of Professional Learning in the Timberlane Regional District showed the deep level of understanding – wisdom, really – that many New Hampshire teachers get to draw upon as they make their new lesson plans.

The White Mountains Regional School District started its move to the Common Core years ago and has rolled it out in virtually all its classrooms.  Amy Parsons, a fifth-grade teacher at the Lancaster Elementary School in the White Mountains District, gave the perspective of a classroom teacher well grounded in the new standards.  

And Ben Dick, English teacher at Memorial High School in Manchester and president of the Manchester Education Association, provided a view from a school in which Common Core discussions have begun but the new curriculum has not yet been developed.

The audio of the broadcast will be here in the next couple of days and the podcast will be here.  In the meantime, you can listen to my recording of it here.

Here are some highlights:

Overview of the Common Core:

Nicole Heimarck:

[Common Core] is about more rigor – more rigor…in what students need to know and, equally important, its about rigor in what students can do, skills.  So we have spent a lot of time in our district discussing “habits of mind”…the notion of students being able to persevere, whether it’s in mathematics or reading – is very significant in these standards and its significant in our culture, in our communities….One of the big shifts we’re finding is that instead of students doing 35 or 40 math problems, they’re digging deep into one or two math problems – and challenging problems, problems that require them to think critically, to come up with multiple solutions…You need to have high expectations…and students feel a great deal of success when they recognize that they have accomplished something truly difficult.


The unions make public schools bad, right? Actually, that’s not what the data shows.

Michael Marder is physics prof at the University of Texas at Austin, and Co-Director of UTeach (“We prepare teachers.  They change the world.”).  He’s a scientist who has found communicative ways to visualize his research data.  Sometimes he applies that skill to education issues to see what’s really going on.  Here is his look at the role unions play in student achievement (taken from page 8, here).

The view that unions are an obstacle to educational progress is the almost universally shared premise among education reform proponents in the U.S., whether the proposed reform is punitive teacher evaluations, the charterization of public education or state-funded private school vouchers.  Prof. Marder lets Steve Jobs (2007) serve as the voice of conventional wisdom on this issue:

I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way….This unionization
and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.

But then he displays simple data that tells a different story.  Each disk is a state.  The red disks are “right to work” states, which he characterizes as “weaker union” states.  The blue disks are “stronger union” states.

Marder union graphs 1

Here’s what Prof. Marder observes in his dispassionate way:

States with and without strong unions are intermingled. Well-off students in wealthy states with strong unions have the highest outcomes. For low-income students the states with highest outcomes have weak unions. Differences in state performance that might be attributed to unions are small compared with effects of poverty.

As an additional note, here is an interesting study by the conservative Fordham Institute that ranks the states by the strength of their teachers’ unions.

The fantasies driving school reform: A primer for education graduates – graduation address by Richard Rothstein

Valerie Strauss has provided (here on her blog, The Answer Sheet) a transcript of a graduation speech by Richard Rothstein,  a deeply knowledgeable and trustworthy education commentator.  Here are some key quotes, but you should read the whole thing here:

Politicians of both parties, leading educators, and philanthropists like Bill Gates who increasingly influence education policy, repeat incessantly that our schools are failing, especially for disadvantaged children. Past efforts at improvement, and vast increases in spending, have accomplished little or nothing, they say. Achievement gaps between disadvantaged and middle class students have narrowed little, so as the proportion of white children declines, this failure of our schools weakens our nation, rendering it unable to compete internationally.

In truth, this conventional view relies upon imaginary facts.


Convicted felon Charles McGee helps scholarship organization raise voucher donations

Kevin Landrigan reported in today’s Nashua Telegraph that Republican operative Charles McGee helped fundraise for the Network for Educational Opportunity.  Here’s the document.  Notice the hyperbole and national ambitions.

Tax credit ruling

It won’t be too long before Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis rules on the constitutional challenge to the education tax credit.

Even supporters of the credit are pessimistic about their chances of winning the case at this level, but confident the state Supreme Court will uphold the credits as not violating the ban on direct public aid to private or religious schools.

Meanwhile, we’ve learned a prominent Republican operative helped the effort to solicit tax credit donations, at least early on.

Email documents in the lawsuit confirmed that former GOP Executive Director Chuck McGee, a Spectrum Monthly executive, helped the Network for Education Opportunity prepare some of its marketing materials.

It isn’t shocking that New Hampshire Democratic leaders were critical of the group securing the services of McGee, who was convicted of charges for his role in the GOP phone jamming episode on Election Day 2002.

“Did Jeb Bradley and Andy Sanborn know their voucher attack on public schools was a taxpayer-funded payday for former NHGOP executive director and convicted felon Charles McGee when they defended it in the Senate last week?” Democratic Party communications director Harrell Kirstein responded in a statement.

This pitch from NEO also overstated its financial success, maintaining that $1 million in donations had already been committed.

NEO officials confirmed to state tax authorities less than a month ago that only $140,000 in donations had come in. They have maintained publicly that pledges for these tax credits are well in excess of that number, and they will show up before the June 15 deadline.

via Issues arise  a little early –

New Hampshire’s only tax credit scholarship organization is making hash of it

New Hampshire’s only scholarship organization is a California group called “The Alliance for the Separation of School and State.”  In New Hampshire, it calls itself the “Network for Educational Opportunity,” but it’s the same group.  They say their purpose is “ending government involvement in education.”  In other words…privatizing public education.

The group helped write the education tax credit bill to do just that, move money from public to private schools.  But even better, there was the prospect that they could make good money doing it.

The Alliance has always been a small budget operation, but it’s been getting smaller.  It had almost $300,000 in donations in 2001, trailing off to less than half that a decade later.

But New Hampshire’s tax credit law was their turn-around opportunity.  The law authorizes tax credits sufficient to fund $4 million in donations in the first year and $6 million in the second year.  And this law that the group helped write allows the scholarship organization to take 10% out of the donations for administrative overhead.


Fiscal magic: how private donations to private schools save state government money

I gave a presentation to a committee of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association (BIA) about voucher repeal yesterday and Charlie Arlinghaus of the Bartlett Center preceded me with a talk about the state budget.  He took the opportunity, since he had the floor, to defend the voucher tax credit program.  His argument was that the tax credit program actually saves the State money – a few hundred thousand dollars per year.   Voucher advocates seem to have decided to bring this this point to the fore as a key selling point.

It’s an interesting point because while the savings are minor, the point itself highlights the essence of the voucher program.  The savings come because, for each child who leaves the public school system, the State provides a tax credit funded voucher averaging $2,500 to a private school instead of an adequacy grant averaging $4,200 to a public school.  Advocates making this argument are saying, “Privatize education – it’s cheaper than paying for public education.”  So, while the cover story is school choice for poor kids, this is as close as voucher supporters get to the real point of this whole exercise, privatizing public education.

The pitch goes on to assert that these State-funded private schools should not be accountable because they are, after all, private.  The result though, is that some number of the kids – a large number in other states using education tax credits – will go to small, unaccredited Christian schools teaching that dinosaurs and people were created on the sixth day.  Is that really a legitimate use for public money or a substitute for our public education system?  I would argue that disinvestment in public education is not a good way to provide an adequate education to every child as the New Hampshire Constitution requires.

Voucher advocates go on to say that it’s really all private money going to the private schools.  “Because the courts have said so.”  That always reminds me of that great Groucho Marks quote, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”  The courts may treat the almost dollar-for-dollar tax credit the business gets in return for the voucher donation as a separate issue for some legal purposes, but voters can still see it there.  I’d say anything the Legislature has to account for in the State’s general fund is public money.