Tea party lawmakers targeting public schools, 12/9/12 OpEd in Portsmouth Herald

posted Jan 9, 2012, 8:20 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Jan 10, 2012, 5:26 AM ]

Here is a discussion of the cost of the proposed Education Tax Credit (school voucher) bill discussed in this OpEd.  It gives the background detail and a 5 year cost projection.

Tea party lawmakers targeting public schools, Portsmouth Herald, 12/9/12
By Bill Duncan
January 09, 2012 2:00 AM

We might think that Dondero, Little Harbour and Maude H. Trefethen are our local public elementary schools — precious assets to be nurtured, debated over, improved.

But our tea party Legislature, the one we elected, says no, these are "government" schools, from which parents and children need to be protected. You know, as in, "We need less government in our lives!"

So last Wednesday, the Legislature, overriding the governor's veto of HB 542, gave parents the right to require their "government" schools to change the curriculum in some way acceptable to the parents. A teacher at a committee meeting on the bill said members "specifically mentioned Everyday Math. They did not like Everyday Math because parents didn't understand it."

Then the House came back on Thursday and passed HB 219, usurping the New Hampshire Department of Education's authority to set curriculum or make rules.

But this is just the beginning. Wait 'til you see the Education Tax Credit program. Two bills (HB 1607 and SB 372) for this program have been filed, with 20 cosponsors, including all Republican leadership. The program could cost the state more than $100 million in the first five years and do real damage to local public schools throughout the state in the bargain.

But the punch line is that they want us to help pay for it with our property taxes.

Here's how the program would work:
  • The state would grant $15 million in tax credits to New Hampshire businesses that fund scholarships for children to go to private, religious and home schools. They could be public school students or already be attending a private school.
  • Businesses would get a 75 percent tax credit against their state Business Profits Tax in return for their contributions to scholarship organizations, which would select the recipients.
  • The average scholarship would be $2,500. Up to $1,500 could go for home schooling costs.
  • The scholarships are not targeted to low-income families who may need the money.
  • They are not targeted to getting children out of "failing" schools — the advocates of these bills argue that our whole New Hampshire education system is failing.
  • There is no academic accountability for the schools receiving the money, most of which will probably be religious schools, the pattern for similar programs in other states. (Yes, this is a national agenda for the tea party.)
The program starts out huge, funding 7,000 to 8,000 students, and grows from there, possibly to as many as 17,000 students and $36 million per year in first five years.

Where does the money come from? Our pockets. It's a shell game. The business funds the scholarships. Then the state repays 75 percent of that to businesses in the form of tax credits. Then we repay the state!

For instance, let's say Mary Jones lives in Portsmouth and attends Dondero School. Currently, the state gives the Portsmouth School Department about $3,000 toward her education each year. We pay another $1,000 in statewide education property tax to make up the $4,000 that's called the "cost of an adequate education." (Then we add more local property tax money. Forget the donor town question for this discussion.)

Under the new Senate bill, Mary would get a $2,500 scholarship funded by a business grant and leave to go to a private school. The state would repay the business a little less than $2,000 of that. Then the state would take back from us not just the $3,000 the state had sent, but the whole $4,000 adequacy grant, including the $1,000 that comes from our property tax. And we are left to deal with a declining enrollment problem made worse by the new scholarship program.

Just to be clear, there's real complexity behind all this and advocates of these education changes will try to confuse the issue. But the fact is that either this $100 million tax credit program comes straight out of Business Profits Tax revenue that funds New Hampshire education, or it comes from state aid and property taxes that currently fund our schools, enabling the sponsors to assert that the program is "revenue neutral" at the state level.

Either way, in these times when the Legislature is cutting the University of New Hampshire, the Department of Health and Human Services and everything in sight, the citizens of New Hampshire have no need for a big program to fund scholarships that are not needed and have no legitimate public purpose. We already have great teachers and great schools, among the best in the country. We don't need a new private one.

If you don't like this idea, tell your legislator. Tell the governor. Track the issue at the Web site of Defending New Hampshire Public Education, www.dnhpe.org.