Foster's Editorial: Choice for all must be the promise, 5/2/12

posted May 2, 2012, 1:42 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 7, 2012, 7:30 PM ]

DNHPE Comment: This is an interesting take for hard core conservative Foster's.  Together with recent responses from traditional conservative legislators and others, it may represent an emerging consensus, as people absorb the elements of this complex bill.

Article published May 2, 2012

Ideologically, it is easy to support legislative efforts by school choice advocates. In practice, the decision is not so clear cut.

New Hampshire's current libertarian-leaning Legislature has focused on the topic, notably with HB 1607 that would establish an education tax credit.

HB 1607 "establishes an education tax credit against the business profits tax and/or the business enterprise tax for business organizations and business enterprises that contribute to scholarship organizations which award scholarships to be used by students to defray the educational expenses of attending a nonpublic school."

The concept behind HB 1607 and a like bill on the Senate side, SB 372, is noble, but does little to further true choice in a fair and equitable manner.

For myriad reasons, advocates believe students should be free to attend the school of their choice. But school choice costs money and no one has figured out a way find the resources in toto for poorer students and families to pay their way at private and parochial schools. So, legislative efforts such as HB 1607 attempt to piecemeal together a portion of the money. The result of such plans is to allow a select few to leave the public school system with partial financing. This is because these select few are able to find the money on their own to fill the gap.

But such is not within the ability for all families. And therein lies the problem with school choice plans to date — they are selective. By their very nature, they discriminate. They do so because they don't provide enough money for all those who may want to leave the public school system.

This is not say, the dream of real school choice should be abandoned. But even before an answer to the money question is found, non-pubic schools interested in being part of the choice movement need to be willing to play by the same rules as public schools. This means accepting students of all stripes, abilities and limitations as required of public schools. No screening that only accepts the best and brightest or students with the right pedigree or personal profile.

Unless there is such a quid pro quo, school choice will remain a choice for the select few — even with full funding. As such HB 1607 and other similar efforts will continue to fall short of their needed goal — choice for all.

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