Voucher legislation threatens N.H.'s public schools, Bill Duncan, Portsmouth Herald, 1/29/12

posted Jan 29, 2012, 12:43 PM by Bill Duncan

Voucher legislation threatens N.H.'s public schools
January 29, 2012 2:00 AM

Last week, Seacoast Sunday featured a story, "Private school scholarship bills rebuked," on the education tax credit (school voucher) program proposed in the Legislature.

It explained some of my many critiques of the program, including that it takes money out of our school systems. At the time, my analysis of the Department of Education was that the program would take back a certain amount of statewide property taxes for each student who left school with a voucher.

This week, the sponsors proposed an overhauled version of the program, including a commitment not to take back state-wide property tax revenues. The Department of Education has proposed new language that would avoid the donor town issue. However, this education tax credit program is still a missile aimed at the heart of the New Hampshire school system. It could take as much as $200 million and 15 percent of our students out of New Hampshire public schools over the next 10 years.

The state would offer $2,500 vouchers, called "scholarships," to incent children to leave their local public schools for private schools or an out-of-district public school and, when the child left, would take an average of more than $4,000 from the child's school. Supporters say the schools will save money on the departed child, but the New Hampshire Policy Institute, our go-to place for this kind of analysis, says what everyone knows: They would not.

There were two long public hearings on the bills this week and there will be more. We heard a lot about the benefits of "competition."

Years ago, voucher supporters would say students got a better education in a private school. The data is in and that did not happen. So now they say the public schools will get better as a result of the voucher funded competition from the private schools. The premise seems to be that all you teachers are slacking off and will snap to when you get some private competition.

The state would send another clear message by adopting the proposed voucher program. We would be saying to the public schools, "We have lost faith in your ability to educate our children and will now consider private, religious and home schools to be educational alternatives on a par with public schools. You will now have to compete for students and money."

Supporters will always cite "the Florida study" as proof that competition works. Don't believe it. What this study really shows is the baffling complexity of trying to say anything useful about that proposition. No, the authors say right in the bill, that the purpose is to: "Allow maximum freedom to parents and independent schools to respond to and, without governmental control, provide for the educational needs of children...;"

And a witness supporting the bill, James Pinard, a lobbyist for a Christian school association, said: "We are confronting, educationally, an entrenched and bloated and centralized bureaucracy which holds us hostage to their world view. This must come to an end."

The sponsors and the schools who would get the new money are on the same page. Take the government money and give it to parents to escape government control. The voucher program is a large, complex centerpiece in the assault on public schools, but there is a truly frightening stack of legislation working its way through the Legislature. If you have a strong stomach, you can look at the Defending New Hampshire Education Web site, www.dnhpe.org. And then take action.

Bill Duncan is a resident of New Castle.