Supporters say...comments on the Bartlett Center Analysis

Update: Here is a March 21, 2012 update to the January report issues by the Bartlett Center.

Defending New Hampshire Public Education

Comment on the Bartlett Center Study:

Scholarship Tax Credit Programs in the United States

Implications for New Hampshire


We see several issues with the Bartlett analysis (attached below).

Targeting to Low Income Families

The study starts off in the executive summary by making the case against targeting the scholarships to low income families, saying that maybe it will happen anyway and maybe higher income folks will get sick and need the money. The author features the same points again on P.17

This stands the whole rationale for a voucher program on its head.  This is the case for giving the scholarships funded, in an Education Tax Credit Program, by tax expenditures (tax credits), to students who do not need them.  

There is no legitimate public purpose for such a program.

No treatment of Academic Accountability in Participating Private, Religious and Home Schools

Accountability is a major issue in the school choice movement and most new voucher programs require some form of academic accountability from participating schools.  But accountability is not addressed in the program design section of this analysis. 

Here is what one of the leading national organizations advocating for school choice says this about accountability:

"The Alliance for School Choice and our affiliate, the American Federation for Children, support strong, commonsense accountability provisions for private school choice programs to ensure the highest level of program quality and sustainability. To achieve this goal, we support public policies that allow for significant transparency to parents, policymakers, taxpayers, and independent evaluators in order to show the effectiveness of these programs. Responsible accountability standards demonstrate both a serious commitment to transparency while ensuring that participating schools maintain their autonomy.


"We believe the school choice movement should encourage states to create new legislation and improve existing legislation so that there is significant transparency to all parties to show the effectiveness of these programs and the schools that participate in them. We also believe that academic information, including both snapshots of academic achievement and some measure of student gains, should be provided to parents and the public, both for voucher programs and tax credit scholarship programs."

New Hampshire school choice advocates say that accountability is built into choice - parents can move their child at any time.  This is a response that works in a political debate but it is not reason not to do the kind of testing that both the taxpayer and the parent would find useful in evaluating the school.  

As close as I can tell, the actual reason advocates reject academic accountability is rejection of government involvement.  Secondly, where private school performance can be assessed, the studies do not show better academic performance in private schools compared to public schools.  If that's the case, what really is the point of vouchers?

And, third, it's about home schools.  Home schoolers are the the lead in designing and advocating for the New Hampshire voucher program.  They are fiercely opposed to any accountability at all and have proposed legislation rolling back the existing accountability rules in place in New Hampshire.  Any private school accountability provisions in the voucher program would undermine that effort.

Public Opinion

The pie charts on P. 9 are probably meant to convey public support for ETC programs.  However, even though the surveys were carried out by school choice advocates to make their case, the national support for tax credits is merely 50/50.  Parental support is higher, as would be expected when people are asked if they want free money.

Beyond that, look at the question behind the pie charts:  "Another proposal has been made to offer for individual and corporate donations that pay for scholarships to help parents send their children to private schools.  Would you favor or oppose such as proposal?"

Imagine being read that question over the phone.  Even reading it, you have to look several times to get what it was really after. First, there’s a tax credit, then it’s for two types of donations, then you have to realize the donations are for scholarships, then the scholarships are for parents, to send children to private schools. There are a lot of concepts linked together in that question. It doesn’t mean respondents won’t choose one option or another, but that doesn't mean they’ll understand what the issue is. 

And then you have the "scholarships."  Who would be against scholarships, regardless of the rest of the words in the question.

If you look at it, the rest of the survey (attached below) is the same kind of thing - technicians looking for support for the kind of technical policy proposals they back.  It's not a useful gauge of public opinion.

The Fiscal Impact

The Fiscal Impact section starts off by saying, on P. 10, “Further study is required to determine the precise fiscal impact on New Hampshire.”  It is unclear, however, what data the author would need that is not available.  It is also unclear why the Legislature would be preparing to vote on legislation for which the financial impact cannot be determined.  

Finally, it is unclear why the author writes about HB 1607 only when SB 372 is there to be analyzed and has a significant financial provision missing from HB 1607.

Instead, the author uses this section as an opportunity to make several points that he feels support the case for proceeding with the program. 

On P. 11, he compares the $15-30 million start-up levels of the proposed ETC program to the full annual cost of education in New Hampshire.   So his graph compares the start-up ETC budget to the whole $2.78 billion New Hampshire elementary and secondary education budget, which is paid for primarily by local property tax.  Why not compare it instead to the $45 million, 45%, cut the University System budget sustained last year or the State Grant of $578 million to the school districts. 

If the author is saying $15 million growing to $35 million is not much money out of the state budget, there are a lot more educators and HHS clients who’d like to make that same case, including those who  would like a mere $7 million for the CHINS program.

Those comparisons would highlight the budget choices the Legislature makes.  Why would you take millions out of the public schools system to give it to private and home schools if you need to cut millions from the university system and Children in Need of Services?

In any case, the most relevant comparison is the number of students in the program and the amount lost money they represent to the school district.  The program being sold here as small starts off in the first year giving vouchers to 2.5% of all the school age children in New Hampshire.  If the program were successful and operating at capacity, by the tenth year 18.5% of all school age children in New Hampshire- 23% of the number of children in public schools - would be receiving state funded vouchers. 

The fiscal analysis punch line on P. 12 seems to be that the Legislature should privatize New Hampshire education to save money, although

  • Only parents who can pay both property taxes and tuition could use the private     schools;
  •  there would be no accountability for the performance of the schools; and
  •  the public system would wither on the vine.

Fiscal impact in other states

It’s not clear what we should make of this survey of other states.  The implication is that there is a parallel between their experience and what NH should expect.  But there is no similarity in size, program design, financial structure, educational situation or purpose among these many programs.

Vouchers and ETCs are a small part of the American educational framework.  Out of 55 million students in the US., there were 11 school voucher programs with 67,267 students last year.   There were 9 ETC programs with 122,972 students.  

Those that do exist vary widely:

Arizona has 3 small ETC programs, 2 for special purposes, with less that 3% of their students participating.  In its corporate ETC program, Arizona requires full academic accountability and public reporting from its participating schools.

Florida’s programs - 1 voucher and one ETC - are for children with disabilities.  And they require full public accountability from their participating private schools.

Georgia has a tiny voucher program for children with special needs and an ETC program strictly for children coming from public schools.  Out of 1.6 million public school children in Georgia - 8 times the number in New Hampshire - only 6,000 participate, fewer than the proposed first year of the NH program. 

Indiana has 1,000,000 public school children, of which 219 are in their highly publicized program.  It is targeted to poor children who must have been in a public school.  They can go to a public school out of their own district and get $4,500 scholarships.  Indiana requires standardized testing in the participating private schools.

Pennsylvania has 9 times as many school children as New Hampshire  and, after 10 years, has 38,000 children participating in an ETC program.  Pennsylvania defeated a voucher proposal this year.

Then there are the big city programs that all the studies have tracked.  They are targeted at manifestly troubled school systems and are part of a real effort to improve the public schools. 

After 16 years, Cleveland’s program has 5,000 students, out of a total student population of 50,000.  They target low income children exclusively and pay 90% of the tuition. And they require accountability.

The Washington DC started in 2004 and has 1,000 students in 2011, out of 44,000 total students.  The program is targeted to low income families and gives up to $7,500 in scholarship.  It has been studied extensively and has full academic accountability.

New Orleans has 1,000 children who must be poor and from an unacceptable school.

New Jersey and Tennessee have not been able to get a law passed.  And whenever a vouchers program is put to a state-wide vote, it is voted down. Vouchers failed to pass in California, Michigan and Utah, though UT has a little program for kids with disabilities.

There is little parallel between these many diverse programs and the ETC program so far proposed in New Hampshire.

Bill Duncan,
Jan 23, 2012, 4:41 AM
Bill Duncan,
Jan 29, 2012, 3:46 AM