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New Hampshire Republicans are determined to use their new majority in both houses to jam through a generous voucher bill that would offer public money for students to attend any school they wanted, including religious schools, private schools, and homeschooling.
Down party lines, the Senate approved an expansive school voucher bill Thursday that would allow parents to use state education aid for a wide range of alternative educational opportunities for their children. The bill was then immediately tabled on another 14-10 party line vote – a move that enables the body to consider bills with a fiscal impact during the budget process.
Opponents have called Senate Bill 130 the most expansive voucher bill in the country with little accountability and say it would increase local property taxes, not reduce them as supporters claim.
They said the bill is the latest attempt to privatize education at the expense of the children remaining in the public school system.“Public education should be treasured, we should treasure the public education that all of us went through,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester. “All this legislation does is carve public education apart and that is not a good thing.”
Supporters said the bill seeks to help those students left behind and those who do not perform well in the public education setting.
They said the program would not only help students it would save state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, said the current situation in public education is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.“The opposition centers on the preservation of an institution even if it is at the expense of the children who attend,” Giuda said. “This bill attempts to care for the children whom our schools don’t work for.”
He said the top reason parents apply to the current business tax credit school scholarship fund are for bullying and discrimination.
The program allows parents who best know their children to find the best fit for their children’s needs, Giuda maintained.
Under the bill, a parent seeking to establish an account would receive between $4,500 to $8,500 per pupil to spend on tuition to any private, religious, or alternative school and on other related educational costs including home schooling, computers, books etc.
The student’s parents would receive the basic state adequacy grant of about $3,700 as well as additional money if the student qualified for free or reduced lunches, special education services, English as a Second Language instruction, or failed to reach English proficiency.
The average grant is estimated to be $4,600.
The program is open to the parents of a student in public —traditional and charter — private or religious school, home schooling, or other alternative educational programs.
New Hampshire has some excellent private schools, some are day schools, some are boarding schools.
The most elite is Phillips Exeter, a boarding school, where the tuition is $55,402. Not likely to accept a single voucher student.
Then there is Brewster Academy, tuition $64,950.
The Dublin School has day students who pay $38,450 and boarding students who pay $66,800.
But if a parent can raise the difference, they might sent their child to Portsmouth Christian Academy, for $15,945 or Concord Christian Academy for $11,200. However, these schools have very small student bodies and are unlikely to find space for a student who is failing in their public school. (Concord Christian Academy has 216 students, perhaps they can make room for one more.)
The state grants will instead underwrite the tuition of students already enrolled in religious schools or being home-schooled. And perhaps a few who are able to find low-quality religious schools with uncertified staff and meager facilities, typically inferior to the public school that the students left.
The Republican legislators don’t care about the experience of other states, where vouchers attract small numbers of students but lead to budget cuts in public schools across the state. If they care to make up for the loss of revenue to public schools, the Legislature will have to raise property taxes. There is no way that vouchers for students currently paying their own way or leave public schools for private schools will reduce the cost of schooling.
It is a shame that none of the legislators consider the research on vouchers. It is not promising. Independent evaluator Mark Dynarski has reviewed many voucher studies and conducted the official evaluation of the D.C. voucher program. He finds that students who use vouchers fall behind their peers in public schools. Voucher schools typically have high attrition rates because the students or their parents realize that the miracles promised never happened. Reviewers at the Center for American Progress described the harm that vouchers do to students. CAP also warned of the dangers that vouchers pose to the civil rights of students. And they warned of the racist origins of school choice and the segregating impact of vouchers.
The Republican legislators are ignorant of the research. They keep repeating Betsy DeVos’s weary cliches, none of which have proven true.
How sad for the children of New Hampshire! How sad for the future of the state.