This afternoon, New Hampshire legislators will be holding a hearing on a bill, Senate Bill 193, that would create “education savings accounts” (otherwise known as private school vouchers). Due to a lack of support – particularly because of its large price tag – legislators have been continuously narrowing the scope of this bill. But that isn’t enough; legislators need to kill it. Public dollars should fund public schools, not private school vouchers.
SB 193 has been slowly making its way through the state legislature since last year, when it was introduced and passed by the Senate. Now the New Hampshire House of Representatives is considering the bill, and they are recognizing many of the bill’s flaws.
The Senate version would have created one of the biggest voucher programs in the country. It would have been open to any current public school student and any student entering kindergarten, including students whose parents would have sent them to private school even without the voucher. It would have drained up to $60 million from the education budget and reduced state funding for schools that lost students – leaving local school districts to make up the difference. And, of course, the bill would fund private religious schools, which concerned legislators almost from the start.
When the bill moved to the House chamber, the Education Committee made two big changes to try to minimize some of the bill’s negative impacts. First, it limited eligibility – the vouchers would only be available to students from low-income families, assigned to a school failing to meet adequate education standards, who have an individualized education program (IEP) or who were not admitted to a charter school.
Concerned about the huge amounts of money that would be drained from the public school system due to this voucher, House members also created a five-year stabilization grant to offset some of the state funding that public schools would lose. But that wasn’t enough because the grants would only go to some schools and would only cover some costs, with some districts at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Local school district budgets would still suffer.
Now the House Finance Committee has narrowed the bill again because they remain concerned about the potential costs of the bill. Vouchers would now only be available to current public school students from low-income families or who are currently attending a failing school.
In addition, to save money for the state, the bill would shift even more of the costs of the voucher to the public schools. This version of the bill would vastly cut the stabilization grants. Now, schools will get just a one-time, flat “adjustment grant” per student lost, which covers less than half of the per-pupil funding the school would lose. That will leave local school districts and taxpayers on the hook for potentially $12 million.
It’s good that Granite State legislators realize they’ve made a mistake, but narrowing the program isn’t the answer. Defeating the bill is. Legislators have ignored many other problems, including that vouchers just don’t work – they don’t improve student achievement, lack accountability and deprive students of rights provided to public school students.
This program also violates the New Hampshire Constitution because it funds private, religious education. The New Hampshire Constitution clearly says that “no money raised by taxation shall ever be…applied for the use of the schools of…any religious sect or denomination.” Even the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office said that the program violates the constitution. Religious liberty means that each person gets to decide if and how to support religion. Vouchers that fund private religious education with public money undermine this pivotal constitutional principle.
Hopefully, when the House Finance Committee holds their hearing on SB 193 this afternoon, it will consider the facts and the law and vote the bill down. If you’re a New Hampshire voter, you can tell the legislature that you oppose the bill by sending our action alert here.