Legislature to weigh in on school choice
By Doug Ireland Eagle Tribune (North Andover, Mass.) | Posted: Monday, January 23, 2012 12:15 pm
CONCORD — Some say the legislation will improve New Hampshire’s schools. Others call it an attack on public education.
When lawmakers gather in Concord today and Tuesday, considerable debate is expected on two bills that could have a dramatic impact on education in the Granite State.
House Bill 1607 and Senate Bill 372 would give students and their families more educational options.
The bills ask the state to provide an average of $2,500 to any child who wishes to attend private school. Businesses and organizations that donate money to help defray this cost would receive a credit against the business profits tax.
Critics say any money collected from taxpayers should be used only to fund public schools.
“It’s a full-scale assault on public education,” said Bill Duncan of New Castle, founder of Defending New Hampshire Public Education. “It’s dismantling the public school system.”
Duncan said members of the organization believe the bills create a voucher program. The program would mostly benefit families who can already afford to send their children to private schools, he said.
“They use state funds to create scholarships to induce kids to leave the public school system,” Duncan said. “Then, the scholarships go to kids who don’t need them.”
But the bills’ backers say it’s not a voucher program that just doles out money.
Sen. Jim Forsythe, R-Strafford, lead sponsor of SB 372, said the legislation is intended to improve all schools and provide more educational opportunities to students.
“The big-picture benefit of this is it increases competition in education,” he said. “It allows people to go to the school of their choice.”
House Majority Leader D. J. Bettencourt, R-Salem agrees. Bettencourt is the lead sponsor of HB 1607.
“Good schools should not only be available to the rich,” he said. “All parents and children should have the opportunity to choose what school to go to.”
And all schools would be better for it, he said.
“School choice in public education will promote accountability and competition to make our schools great again and reject the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach once and for all,” Bettencourt said.
Duncan claims the bills would revive the controversial concept of “donor towns.” This is when some communities send money to the state to fund education, while others receive money.
Forsythe and Bettencourt say the state will actually save money in the long run by decreasing the amount spent on public education.
But Salem Superintendent of Schools Michael Delahanty and Salem School Board Chairman Peter Morgan agree with Duncan, the quality of public education would suffer if such legislation is passed.
“If it’s going to take money away from public schools, it’s problematic,” Morgan said.
No matter what some lawmakers call it, it’s still a voucher program, Delahanty said.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a shell game,” Delahanty said. “It’s a shell game done by a philosophy that government shouldn’t interfere with citizen opportunities.”
But government has an obligation to make sure all students are receiving a solid education, he said.
The program would place a greater burden on taxpayers already struggling to fund public education, he said.
A state Department of Education analysis of the legislation’s potential costs show state revenue would decrease $15 million in fiscal 2013 alone and continue to drop each year thereafter. But Forsythe said amendments will be introduced this week that significantly reduce the program’s cost.
The Department of Education isn’t taking a stance on the bills, according to Judith Fillion, director of the Division of Program Support.