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Molly Kelly, a former Democratic legislator in New Hampshire, explains what is wrong with the Republicans’ voucher plan. In New Hampshire, as in Florida, Indiana, and other states, the state constitution explicitly prohibits spending public money on religious education. But apparently Republicans believe that the state constitution is just a piece of paper, whose actual textual language is meaningless.
Public education is a core tenet of our democracy. That’s why I believe it’s wrong to take money from public schools to pay for vouchers to private or religious schools. Period. But Republicans are prioritizing this dangerous idea with Senate Bill 130, which will only leave more children behind, raise our property taxes, and undermine the quality of a strong public education system.
The so-called “Education Freedom Accounts” legislation being considered by Republican legislators in Concord could not be a bigger misnomer, and the people of New Hampshire, including myself, are not so easily fooled. We know this voucher scheme isn’t about education freedom, just like so-called right-to-work legislation is not about workers’ rights. It’s a way of helping those who have resources and taking from those who don’t, under the title of a scholarship organization.
In our state, we contribute $3,708 in adequacy funding for each student to receive a quality public education. We know that amount must increase. But under the GOP voucher scheme, this funding plus an additional differentiated aid of $895 per student, a total of $4,603 for each “scholarship recipient,” would be taken from public schools and given to private and religious schools — weakening our public schools in the process — with no transparency or accountability for how those tax dollars are spent.
According to the N.H. Private School Review, “the average private school tuition in New Hampshire is approximately $19,393 per year.” (Private elementary schools average $8,511 per year and private high schools average $28,231 per year).
Obviously, a $4,603 voucher is merely a drop in the bucket to pay for education outside of the public system. Who pays for the difference? Parents who can afford it. If parents have resources to send their child to a private or religious school, the state should not take from taxpayers to subsidize that education while hurting everyone else.
Not only does the voucher scheme take from those who need it, but the program is unconstitutional. Under our state constitution, taxpayers’ education dollars are not permitted to be spent at religious schools.
“But no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination,” says the NH State Constitution Bill of Rights, Part 1, Article 6 and “no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of institutions of any religious sect or denomination,” according to Part 2, Article 83.
Further, in announcing his recent budget proposal, the governor said everyone would pay less in taxes. If the governor supports this bill, he will be taking funding from public schools and asking Granite Staters to pay more in property taxes to make up the funding loss. On top of that, a diminished public school system will drive down property values. Most importantly, though, is that if this bill is signed into law, it would undermine the education system that our children need to receive a quality education and thrive.
Finally, if parents believe their child isn’t thriving in a public school, then we need to do something about that. Let’s make classrooms smaller, decrease the ratio of students to teachers, support our teachers, commit to quality innovative curriculum and invest in better equipment and technology. The last thing we should do is cut back or give up.
We cannot turn our back on the imperative to invest in public education and provide an equal opportunity for all of our students, not just for a few. The public good must remain at the forefront. We need to strengthen our public schools, not take from them. I would argue that is true education freedom.