N.H.Education Department: Scholarship voucher system would cost schools thousands, Foster's Daily Democrat, 2/28/12

posted Feb 29, 2012, 10:04 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 29, 2012, 10:37 AM ]

DNHPE Comment: The voucher plan sponsors continue to assert that vouchers lead to better results for the children going to private schools and the competition results in better public schools, but after 20 years of research, it is well established that this is not true.

School leadership knows that as well, as the highlighted quotes show.  But the quote from Senator Forsythe, the plan's prime sponsor, is odd.  Under his proposed plan,  a school district would lose $12-16,000 more when a voucher student left than when a non-voucher student left.  We explain why here.

Emphasis added, below.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

DOVER — School districts around the region stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars in state aid if New Hampshire lawmakers approve a bill that would offer scholarships to students who attend private, religious or home schools, according to a preliminary analysis by the state Department of Education.

Similar to education vouchers, the scholarships would be granted to students who wish to attend a private school or a public school outside of their home district. The scholarships would be awarded annually, and students would receive an average of $2,500 in scholarship money. Students who attend home school would also be eligible for up to $725 in scholarship money to cover expenses.

For each student who leaves a public school system to attend private school, the district would lose an equivalent amount of state aid. Currently, the state provides an average of about $4,100 per student.

The scholarships would be funded through donations from businesses, which would stand to receive a tax credit. A pair of bills filed in the House and Senate would offer an 85-percent tax credit on either the business profits tax or business enterprise tax to companies that donate to the non-profit scholarship organizations established to dole out the money.

Proponents of the scholarship system, like Republican Sen. Jim Forsythe, of Strafford, argue the program will help public school districts eliminate wasteful spending by creating competition.

"Whenever you see more options, you see more quality," he said.

To help lawmakers analyze the ramifications of the scholarship system, the Department of Education provided a preliminary analysis of the impact to school districts. The study was based on the assumption that districts will see about twice as many students leave than they currently do.

According to the study, in Dover, 45 students left the public school system to attend private school or to be home-schooled during the 2011 school year. If the scholarship program provides an additional incentive for twice as many students to leave during the 2012-2013 school year, the loss in education aid would total about $200,000 from Dover's $6 million apportionment. The loss would be offset by an estimated $12,565 in savings.

"Given our current financial situation, this scenario would be devastating," said Amanda Russell, vice chairperson of the Dover School Board. "For several years, the schools have chipped away at every possible area of the budget. We are again looking to postpone curriculum adoption and possibly eliminating programs to try to achieve a tax cap budget. It is likely that a loss such as this would result in a reduction of educators and higher class sizes as well as a loss of more programs."

Public schools in Rochester would lose an estimated 38 students to private and out-of-district schools during the 2012-2013 school year, if the scholarship system is implemented, the education department analysis found. That would result in a loss of approximately $87K.

In Somersworth, the school district would stand to lose about 18 students, and approximately $36,000 in state aid. Dana Rivers, chairperson of SAU56, and a member of the Somersworth School Board, said the impact wouldn't be tremendous for the budget, but he said the legislation still stands to sap public education statewide.

"It's strictly, from my perspective, it's a political agenda issue being pushed by the Republicans," he said.

Proponents of the tax credit system argue school districts will save money in the long-term if they can pare down costs by reducing staffing and consolidating classrooms. However, John Widmer, chairman of the Governor Wentworth Regional School District School Board, said the district will be saddled with fixed infrastructure costs that cannot be reduced through the loss of a handful of students, and thousands in state funding.

"You're not going to reduce teachers," he said. "you're not going to reduce aides. You're not going to reduce any of the costs you have for all the other pupils, so your cost remains the same, but you're not receiving any additional funding from the state."

Forsythe said some districts might not realize savings in the first year of the program, but others will likely be ready to achieve cost savings. He also noted that the program would accept a maximum of $8 million in donations from businesses during its first year, yielding a maximum of $6.8 million in scholarship money.

"That's less than one-third of a percent of the money spent on public education in New Hampshire," he said. "If the districts didn't know about this program to begin with, they'd never notice, probably, the students leaving because of the program."