Why we need school choice in New Hampshire, Another View, UL 5/29/12

posted May 29, 2012, 3:55 AM by Bill Duncan

DNHPE Comment: The recycling of this version of the argument by the libertarian Republican Liberty Caucus, home based of the prime sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jim Forsythe, suggests they feel some uncertainty about overriding the veto.

EVERYONE in the United States already has school choice ... if they can afford it. The rich and upper-middle class go to private schools or select schools in wealthy suburbs. Middleclass parents can afford many private schools, or homeschool their children. What the new education bill will do is extend those same choices to lower-income families.

According to the U.S. Dept.

of Education’s NCES website: “From 1993 to 2007, the percentage of children attending a ‘chosen’ public school (a public school other than their assigned public school) increased from 11 to 16 percent. The percentages of children attending private schools also increased between 1993 and 2007 (from 8 to 9 percent for private church-related schools and from 2 to 3 percent for private not church-related schools).” An additional 3 percent are home-schooled.

So 15 percent of our students are already completely outside the public school system, and having a lot less money spent on them.

The NAEP reported that the average private school tuition in 2003-4 was $6,600 (for comparison, NH spent $9,413 per pupil that year in public schools; last year it was $15,585). Yet privateschool students get higher ACT and SAT scores than public-schooled children.

The NCES web site also points out: “Another form of parental choice is to move to a neighborhood so one’s child can attend a particular school. In 2007, the parents of 27 percent of public school students reported that they had moved to their current neighborhood so that their child could attend his or her current school.”

Kudos to parents who make the sacrifices necessary to take on an $800,000 mortgage so that their children can go to a safer, betterequipped school. However, obviously not everyone has the option to spend 100 times the cost of private-school tuition in order to switch schools. That’s where the recently passed school choice tax credit comes in, aimed at parents making less than $67,000 per year.

The $2,500 tax credit is much less than the variable cost per pupil in a public school. (Remember, last year New Hampshire spent $15,585, and it will be more this year). One study shows that variable costs can average 64 percent of total costs nationwide, and the lowest variable cost estimate from a state was well over $5.000 ...

in Utah, a state that spends less than New Hampshire.

(Variable costs tend to be higher in smaller schools, but even there they will be higher than $2,500).

Parents who take advantage of the home-schooling option will save school districts even more money, as the tax credit for homeschool supplies is only $650.

So the effect of school choice on public schools will be to help their budgets while reducing their class sizes.

Who doesn’t want better teacher-pupil ratios in public schools?

The family has to chip in the difference between the $2,500 and the private tuition. So overall, the proposed bill INCREASES the overall amount spent on education per child.

Instead of beating the student into the shape of a school desk, maybe the school should be tailored to the student. Despite what George Bush said, maybe not everyone needs exactly the same education. The “nationwide standardized tests” don’t measure a child’s ability in ballet, violin, or web design. (Of course, public schools aren’t passing the standardized tests either.

In April, New Hampshire Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry announced that 71 percent of NH public schools have failed the federally required NCLB tests.) So public schools are spending 100 percent of their time “teaching to the test”, and then the students are failing the test. This is the system that we are afraid to let lower-income parents and children escape.

On May 16 the House voted 236-97 for its version of a school-choice bill. The Senate voted 17-7 for the Senate bill. Now the bills go to a conference committee to iron out the differences and send the bill to Gov. John Lynch.

But the lame-duck governor has promised to support the public employee unions and veto the bill. If you want to see school choice become a reality in New Hampshire, call your state legislators.

Bill Walker, a resident of Plainfield, works at M2S in West Lebanon. He is active in the NH Liberty Alliance.