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As a result of strong opposition, Republicans who control the New Hampshire legislature decided to postpone consideration of their “number one priority,” school vouchers. Under consideration was the most sweeping voucher bill in the nation. Thousands of people signed up to testify against the legislation.
A bill to create a school voucher-like system in New Hampshire is poised to be kicked to 2022, after Republicans on the House Education Committee said that it needed more time.
In a 20-0 vote Thursday, the committee recommended that the bill be retained, a move that if approved by the full House next week would put off any decision-making until next year’s session.
House Bill 20, named the “Richard ‘Dick’ Hinch education freedom account program” after the late House speaker, was a top priority for House Republicans this year. The proposal would allow parents to withdraw their children from public school and take the per-pupil state money with them.
Under the bill, that state funding, which amounts to $3,700 to $8,000 per student depending on the school, could then be used by the parents for a number of alternative expenses, such as private school tuition, college preparatory courses, school supplies, or transportation.
But a deluge of opposition to the bill from public school advocates and Democrats had slowed down its progress, resulting in contentious hearings and deliberative sessions that stretched through the day. Opponents argue the bill would drain resources from public schools and prompt cutbacks and increased property taxes; proponents say that it would provide new opportunities to families whose public schools aren’t working for their children.
Despite numerous tweaks and amendments, the bill didn’t have the votes to pass out of the GOP-controlled committee.
It is unclear if the committee would have had the votes to pass the bill even if the amendments were drafted correctly. Last week, NHJournal reported James Allard (R-Pittsfield) was likely to vote against the measure.
House insiders tell NHJournal that had a vote on the bill been held, the best-case scenario would have been a 10-10 tie vote in the committee, sending the bill to the floor with no recommendation. That would have set up a heated floor battle.
Attempts to sway Allard and other concerned Republicans included adding income-caps to the EFA eligibility formula. The cap would limit participation to those earning less than 375 percent of the federal poverty limit — roughly $99,000 for a family of four. That proposed income-cap would cut the number of eligible students in half.
Democrats on the Education Committee were pleased with the outcome.”HB 20 contains no protection for students against discrimination, little oversight, and is ripe for fraud…and would act as a tax-dollar giveaway to wealthy families. There has never been as much vocal opposition to a piece of legislation in NH,” Democrat leader on the committee Mel Myler said in a press release Thursday morning.
There’s still an Education Freedom Account bill in the Senate, giving supporters hope the legislation can still be amended and passed this year. In 2017-2018, the Senate passed SB193 – an education savings account program. That bill died in the House, after being heavily amended. The Senate then scrapped a separate bill and reintroduced SB193, the original version. Again, the proposal failed in the House.Democrats and teachers unions argued EFAs would increase property taxes, defund local district schools, and wreak havoc on New Hampshire’s education system. They celebrated Thursday’s win.
It has been well documented that students who leave public schools for voucher schools lose ground academically. Vouchers will not only hurt the state’s poorly funded public schools, it will hurt the children who use vouchers. It is a lose-lose for everyone except the religious schools that win public funds.