On March 9th at 1:00 PM in room 210-11 of the Legislative Office Building, the House Finance Committee Division II Subcommittee will hold a public hearing on a new amendment with many big changes. It will vote the bill out of committee on March 13. The full House will vote on March 21 or 22.
The is the time to make your voice heard. Until March 13, you can email the House Finance Committee (at HouseFinanceCommittee@leg.state.nh.us). Between March 13 and March 21, call your representatives and follow up with an email (get their contact info here if you know who they are and here if you don’t).
In both cases, tell the House members what you think about SB 193 and how damaging the bill would be to the public schools we all depend upon. You should address whatever concerns you most about the bill. Here is where SB 193 has the biggest impact:
SB 193 would mandate that local property taxes subsidize private schools and homeschooling.
The Legislative Budget Office (LBA) projects that the new amendment to SB 193 would cost local school districts $100 million in the first 11 years of the program. That would mean substantial property tax increases across the State. When we pay our local property taxes, we expect the education portion to be used for our local public schools, in which we have invested tremendously over the years, but SB 193 would would mandate that New Hampshire’s school districts raise taxes further to subsidize private schools and home schools.
Here is the Union Leader report on the financial impact of the bill. Our local districts universally oppose this new voucher program but would be forced to foot the bill.
How many students will use the program?
The LBA office projects that only 4-500 new students will get ESA grants in the first year, based on the limited availability of private school space in New Hampshire. Even so, the LBA says that over the first 11 years 2,000 students, fully 6% of eligible public school students, will have left with ESAs.
But these participation rates should be seen as a minimum. The number of ESA grants could grow much more quickly as private schools expand, new ones form and eligibility requirements change over time. About 22% of Concord Christian Academy students are funded by the 2012 voucher funded by business tax credits (the “ETC program”) and is in the midst of a major facilities expansion to address anticipated increases in enrollment.
You will hear advocates minimize all this, saying,“If our schools are good, only a few kids should leave.” But grants from the 2012 education tax credit program have been concentrated in communities like Manchester, Bedford, Rochester, Londonderry, Rindge, and Concord. It’s obviously not a question of school quality. What is it?
It turns out that parents move their children for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it may be about academic challenge. But it’s also to play sports, or because the student would rather be in a larger or smaller school or be with friends. Or parents would prefer their children attend a school closer to home or work.
And it’s often for religious instruction. The country’s leading voucher advocacy organization, The Friedman Foundation, reports that, nationally, 57% of parents using vouchers are seeking a religious education: for 38% the primary goal is to provide religious instruction and 19% said their goal was instruction in morals/character/values. Only 20% say they choose private schools for academic reasons.
In New Hampshire, in the last three years, over 80 percent of the grants used for private school tuition under the 2012 voucher program funded by business tax credits went to religious schools.
So SB 193 is not about our schools failing their students. The constitutionality of public funding for religious education will be settled in court. But in the meantime, property taxpayers would be subsidizing parents’ preferences for a variety of reasons other than the quality of our schools. Here is further detail on the number of students likely to use ESAs.
Cities and property poor districts will be hardest hit.
The private schools affordable for ESA recipients tend to be clustered in more populated areas. You can see them clustered at the top of this Reaching Higher NH’s tabulation of the financial impact of SB 193. So if you’re from one of those high impact cities, you’re most likely to see your property taxes increase as vouchers siphon money from your local school budget.
Communicate about how SB 193 would affect your district.
You could point to some tough budget decisions that have affected your local schools, illustrating that your district can’t afford to lose ANY money under this program, then do so. The Concord School Board, for instance, has struggled with whether to go to full day kindergarten. Board members recognize the benefits, but have been reluctant because they don’t have a dime to spare. Again, the Reaching Higher NH’s tabulation shows the financial impact on your town.
There is no quality control of the educational results of the program.
Unaccredited schools are eligible to receive vouchers.
Public money will be used for students to attend private schools that have met no academic requirements. They must only be “Approved for Attendance” by the New Hampshire department of education, meaning that they meet certain zoning, fire and safety requirements. Pastor Jones could set up a school in his basement, which already has the needed zoning and safety approvals. Or a high school dropout could set up a for profit school. They would both be qualified to receive tuition paid from SB 193 Education Savings Accounts.
Lax Testing Requirements.
The bill requires the scholarship organization to analyze, on an annual basis, student growth and achievement for ESA students compared to peer groups, but that will not be possible in the framework established by the bill. The bill does require that students at private schools take a standardized test each year, but each school can choose a different test, and the private schools need not administer the assessments that public school students take. Home schooled students need take no standardized test, but may simply be “evaluated” by “any teacher,” including teachers with no credentials. There will be no way to know how tax-funded voucher students are doing compared with how they would have done if they’d stayed in public school.
Money otherwise available for education is being diverted to a scholarship organization.
The Legislative Budget Assistant office projects that $3.5 million (that could have been used to fund our public schools) will be paid to the scholarship organization.
No special support for special education
While other states have built programs specifically to meet the needs of students with special needs, and many parents may anticipate that SB 193 will allow them to move to a different school for what they anticipate will be better services, SB 193 does not provide that kind of assistance. Advocates for students with IEPs and 504 plans have submitted extensive commentary and suggested changes to SB 193 and the new proposed amendment. However, it is a complex topic that an SB 193 ESA program is not prepared to address.
Students and families still waive their rights to the planning, screening, services, and accommodations that are guaranteed to students under federal disability laws. The removal of that qualifier does not change the “parental placement” provision in the bill.
The Union Leader’s 1 year report card on Education Commissioner Edelblut: Education commissioner Edelblut stands up for choice
The lead article in today’s Union Leader is a retrospective on Commissioner Edelblut’s first year in the job. Although the words of support for public school students are there, the important message for parents and voters is right in the headline: it’s all about private school choice. Here are some highlights from the piece: (more…)