Defending New Hampshire Public Education

A New Legislature, a New Posture

The Defending New Hampshire Public Education web site tracked education issues in the 2011/12 New Hampshire Legislature.  Public Education was under massive assault, as shown by the many bills listed on the left..  The key issues were CACR 12, the constitutional amendment that would have eliminated a child's fundamental right to an adequate education in New Hampshire, and the voucher bill.  CACR 12 failed but a small version of the voucher bill passed.

But now we have a new Legislature dominated by education-friendly Democrats and moderate Republicans.  And in Governor-Elect Maggie Hassan, we have an education advocate in the corner office.  Advocates for public education can take a different posture this year and we will be able to address an entirely new set of issues.  Although money will be tight, it is possible to consider ways to strengthen New Hampshire public education rather than playing defense.

So we have renamed the group and made a new web site, Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, to track the issues in the upcoming legislative session and more broadly.  Please join us there.

The Proposed Voucher Plan

Very little of the Legislature's public education agenda got done last session.  The leadership did make deep cuts to the UNH budget and gut the calculation of adequacy.  But in the 2012 legislative session, the Legislature has continue the effort to nullify with Claremont decision, abolish or immobilize the Department of Education, deregulate home schooling and enable parents to intervene in the classroom in a many new ways.  

And they will propose school vouchers cloaked as an “education tax credit” program.

The featured piece of legislation, recently unveiled to great fanfare, would bring school vouchers to NH, cloaked as an "education tax credit" program, The bill amounts to a raid on New Hampshire's school districts, taking state adequacy aid from the school districts and putting it into support private, religious and home schools. The House and Senate have both drafted and are amending their bills.  The House bill is here.  The Senate bill and its sponsors are here.

This would be a very high cost program in a small state like New Hampshire.  The current proposal is for tax credits at an initial level of $3.4 million.  If successful, it would grow by 25% per year.

This would fund scholarships for 5,400 children in the first year and up to 13,000 in the fifth.  This is a very large program.  By comparison, Florida is 14 times as large as New Hampshire and its 10 year old program has 40,000 students, 3 times the size of New Hampshire's first year "pilot" program.  Here is a projection of the program's numbers based on the current Senate draft legislation.  

New Hampshire's public school parents reject the proposed voucher program by a margin of almost 3-1.  According to the latest Granite State Poll and the Carsey Institute, voters in New Hampshire of all political stripes reject vouchers as well.  Here is the report.

What would New Hampshire get from this expensive and complex program?  Mainly problems.  Here are a few.

  • It could take as much as $90 million out of New Hampshire's public schools over ten years and put it into private, religious and home schools.  
  • Supporters will say that it would pay for itself but it will not.  As discussed here, the state would spend as much as $100 million more on tax credits than it takes back from the school districts in the first 10 years. 
  • New Hampshire has about 189,000 students.  As a result of demographic changes and migration, the number of children in New Hampshire is projected to continue to shrink, especially in the North Country.  The proposed voucher program would accelerate that decline. 
  • As they lost students, New Hampshire's public schools would become steadily weaker and less able to provide the level of instruction they do today.  Local taxes could increase to support the remaining students.   This would be devastating to New Hampshire's public school system, making New Hampshire a less desirable place to live and lowering real estate values. 
  • The Senate bill says that improvement of educational results is the goal, but no other state program has shown improvement in educational results. Studies such as those reviewed by the nonpartisan Center for Education Policy find no improvement in education as a result of voucher programs.
  • There is no provision for holding the private, religious and home schools accountable for their educational results.
  • Supporters say that the competition from private schools will improve our public schools but there is no reason to believe this counter intuitive assertion.  Advocates cite "the Florida study" as proof of their claim, but when you look at the study, you find that it does not support that claim.  It's a little like saying, "We will disinvest in the existing public schools and see if they can scramble to offer richer programs while both demographic changes and the state Legislature are working to depopulate their classrooms and cut their funding."
  • The voucher bills represent the Legislature's lack of commitment to protecting and improving New Hampshire's strong public schools.