Education tax credit won't serve the majority of us, Paula Salvio and Joe Onosko, 2/9/12

posted Feb 9, 2012, 9:47 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 9, 2012, 10:30 AM ]

The Concord Monitor OpEd is below.  It has also appeared in:

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Foster's Daily Democrat
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Supporters of House Bill 1607 falsely claim that New Hampshire's public schools are failing, and they want public money redirected to private schools ...

Published on Concord Monitor (

Education tax credit won't serve the majority of us
It's a baffling plan in this tough economy
By Joe Onosko and Paula Salvio / For the Monitor
February 9, 2012

The New Hampshire House Ways and Means Committee recently heard testimony on House Bill 1607, an education tax credit proposal that will benefit parents of non-public school children. Regardless of the potential merits of increasing school choice, HB 1607 is bad social policy because it does not serve the majority of New Hampshire students, parents and citizens. Here are a few reasons why:

First, supporters of HB 1607 assert that New Hampshire public schools are failing and, therefore, want public money redirected to religious and secular private schools, as well as to parents of home-schoolers. While we would be the last to argue that our public schools are ideal, New Hampshire schools are excellent compared with the nation. According to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as "the Nation's Report Card," Grade 4 public school students in New Hampshire were among the highest-performing groups in mathematics - only Massachusetts had higher achievement that was statistically significant. Similarly, Massachusetts and Minnesota were the only states to score significantly higher than New Hampshire eighth-graders on the NAEP math test. And only three states had higher scores than New Hampshire public-school eighth-graders in reading (Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey).

Compare these results to the 2009 U.S. Department of Education's evaluation of the Washington, D.C., voucher program. This study concluded that there were no demonstrated improvements in academic achievement for the targeted students. A recent 2011 study in Milwaukee found that students with vouchers in private schools performed worse in reading and math than did students in Milwaukee's public schools. And let's not forget the U.S. Department of Education report from 2006 that found "children in public schools generally performed as well or better in reading and mathematics than comparable children in private schools," according to the New York Times.

Given these findings, why would state representatives gamble local taxpayer money on alternative forms of schooling that face none of the assessment and evaluation measures of public schools and, in the process, seriously jeopardize the New Hampshire Advantage?

Second, this bill will not serve the disadvantaged, nor will it help close the achievement gap as claimed by some sponsors. In his testimony, Jeff McLynch, executive director of the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, pointed out that a religious elementary school in New Hampshire costs roughly $5,200 per student annually, $7,700 for a secondary school. Secular private schools in New Hampshire are much more expensive: $15,700 for elementary and $24,700 for secondary. While Sen. James Forsythe claims HB 1607 will target low-income and working-class students, tuition rates combined with daily transportation costs (both time and money) suggest these families are likely to remain with public schools. The net effect is that the bill will support parents who already send their children to private and religious schools or who home-school their children. In short, legislators who vote for this bill are enhancing the liberty (choice) of a small minority of citizens and residents rather than promoting the greater good, including our nation's commitment to equality of educational opportunity.

Third, this tax break goes to a special minority. Data from the 2010 American Community Survey reveal that the median income of New Hampshire families with children attending private schools is more than $97,000 per year, a full 25 percent higher than the median income for families with children attending public schools. Rather than benefiting those in need, it sure looks like a plan to financially support higher-income parents with kids already in secular private schools and parents committed to a faith-based education or home schooling. We believe it is inappropriate and possibly unconstitutional to expect New Hampshire taxpayers to subsidize a family's private school expenses.

We hope lawmakers interested in improving education take time to learn about curriculum, assessment and policy by speaking directly with educators. HB 1607 would have New Hampshire citizens paying for two systems of education: the one it now has and another for people who can already afford a wider range of choices. The desire to inject more of the free market into New Hampshire education will provide greater liberty for only a wealthier few.

In short, it looks more like a thinly veiled special handout than Adam Smith's beneficent "invisible hand." It's all the more baffling given today's tough economic times.

(Paula Salvio of Durham and Joe Onosko of Portsmouth teach education at the University of New Hampshire.)