Supporters say....in the press

The only to written defenses of the Education Tax Credit (school voucher) program I've seen are JR Hoell's OpEd that has appeared several places including the Keene Sentinel.  Rep. Cynthia Chase responded in the Sentinel and I will extract some quotes below to respond to more specifically.  In addition, Rep. Balboni's response to my OpEd in the Nashua Telegraph in which he made the basic argument about how bad New Hampshire schools are.  In a follow-up email exchange, he also made the larger worldwide point that Rep. Hoell made in his piece (they have the same lobbyist writing their stuff).

We'll keep updating this page over time.


Choice

The legislators advocating for vouchers always talk about choice: “shouldn’t we give parents the choice?”  

They do have the choice to send their kids where they want to.  They just don’t have the choice to make New Hampshire taxpayers pay for it.  By far, most of the people receiving money under the proposed Education Tax Credit program would not need the $2,500 in order to choose a private school.   They’d be in private school anyway.

In any case, $2,500 is too small an amount to help low income people who couldn’t afford the rest of the tuition.

Why does the Legislature think the state of New Hampshire can even afford to offer such an unnecessary benefit a the choice to go to a private school?  Last year, the legislature that cut everything in sight last, from HHS funding for kids with disabilities to the University system.  If the Legislature wants to promote choice, they could use the $100 million proposed for the Education Tax Credit program to lower UNH tuition so that poor kids could go rather than giving it to private school parents who don’t need it.

The choice argument is a cloak for the larger effort to drain all funding from the public schools and send it to religious and home schools.

From the Hoell OpEd: "According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost 27 percent of children in America already have access to the school of their choice." 

What Rep. Hoell means here is that this is the percentage of children not attending their local public school.  The real percentage of American children with access to the school of their choice is much higher than Rep. Hoell suggests.  But most of them just go tripping down the sidewalks to the school bus to their neighborhood school.  

Rep. Hoell includes in his 27% figure the 16% of children who go to a public school other than their assigned on.  Indeed, moving around within the public school system to accomodate special desires and needs is much more common than going to private schools (About 10% of all students in the US go to private schools).  

If the Free State/Tea Party advocates were actually concerned with choice, they would include this same public school and charter school choice among the choices the Education Tax Credit scholarship program would cover.  But to New Hampshire anti-public education advocates, choice means only private schools.

About 87% of private schools are religious schools.  An additional 3% are home schooled.


Cost of the Propose Education Tax Credit (school voucher) Bill

From Rep. Hoell piece: "The real question is, “Can we afford to let more children have school choice?” or “Can a system be put in place to still support the public schools while allowing parents to have this choice?” Actually, a well implemented school choice program saves the state money, without down shifting the cost to the local school districts."

There may be such a program, but this is not it.  This one is being pitched as revenue neutral to the state budget and that requires downshifting to the local property tax payers.  Here is our page analyzing the cost of the proposed Education Tax Credit program and it's potential to be revenue neutral.  That is a meaningless assertion.


Goal: Replace public schools

From the Rep. Hoell OpEd: "So there is no budgetary excuse to shortchange our children. Even if every parent in the state sent their child to private school — which is unlikely — at taxpayer expense, it would save money. Better quality education can be achieved at lower cost."

So here we are.  Presented in a bit of a sly way, we have the actual goal of the Free State/Tea Party Education Tax Credit program.  Basically, if all children went to private school it would be cheaper.  

And, if you accept the Hoell/Balboni arguments that New Hampshire schools are terrible and, in fact, the whole US "government" school system is bad compared on a world-wide basis, then leaving the public schools behind and putting the children in religious and home schools is all the more logical.


Besides, Taking Money and Students Out of the Public Schools Would Reduce Class Size

Hoell again: "The first step toward increasing educational options is to create an education tax credit that encourages businesses to give money toward educational scholarship foundations. These foundations then create scholarships for children to go to the school of their choice. This will give more parents the ability to choose a private school. At the same time, it will reduce the financial burden on towns, and reduce class sizes in taxpayer-funded public schools. All schools would improve, both from competition and from decreases in public school class size.

We will assume Rep. Hoell does not really believe this and will not expend much energy on this argument here.  

The actual impact of the proposed Education Tax Credit will be to reduce the students in and funding for New Hampshire's school districts so that the same fixed costs will have to be spread over a smaller number of students.  Over time, more teachers will be laid off, educational programs terminated and school quality will be degraded.  The school districts would behave much like any dying business that is losing customers.

The is the intention of the Education Tax Credit program.


New Hampshire (and All U.S. Schools) are Failing

Here is a whole page debunking, in detail, the "New Hampshire schools are failing" case as made by Rep. Balboni.

The Rep. Hoell OpEd makes the international point all the voucher advocates make: "Are private-school children and home schoolers somehow missing out on education quality? Far from it. According to a 2009 survey of 15 year olds from 34 industrialized countries, U.S. students placed 25th out of the 34 of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in math and only at average for reading. Furthermore, only 77.5 percent of U.S. students graduate from high school. The standard being set by the current public school system is not very impressive."

Rep. Balboni make the same point in his email to me, with the ad hominem endemic in any discussion with Free State/Tea Party folks.

New Hampshire does do a lot better than that.  It’s one of the best systems in the country.  

But, more important, when the voucher advocates point to this international comparison, it is clear where they are going with it.  They are saying that our education system is so damaged we need to forget about it and send the kids to religious and home schools.

 

DC Graduation Rates

Hoell again: "However, according to a recent study, a school-voucher program in D.C. achieved a graduation rate of 91 percent, compared to the public school average of 56 percent. The Washington Post editorial board supported the $7,500 per year voucher program. Even under the harshest inner-city conditions, with many single parents under high stress, educational choice works."

First, he’s got the numbers wrong: the difference in graduation rates was 82% vs 70%. 

Second, the studies conclude that there were no differences in academic achievement, even compared to those failing Washington DC schools, so any difference in graduation rates is likely to be, as the CEP analysis said here, attributable to parents and their backgrounds and motivations, not the vouchers themselves. 

But the main thing is that data from the Washington, D.C. program does not apply to the New Hampshire program because the Washington, D.C. program is all about low income students coming from failing schools while the New Hampshire Education Tax Credit program merely gives unneeded scholarships to encourage parents to take their children out of a school system that is performing well.

As in most all voucher programs other than Georgia and the proposed New Hampshire program, the D.C. program targeted to low income people and troubled schools.  And it holds the private schools accountable for their educational results.  And it’s a $7,000 scholarship that can make a difference, not just $2,500.

More importantly, the D.C. voucher program is part of a serious effort to fix DC schools, with big merit pay increases for teachers, shutting down failing schools, putting top notch principals in place and many other elements.  

And, for all that, it’s a pretty small program that, after many years of operation, gives scholarships to a little over 1% of D.C. students.

The New Hampshire program is just the opposite.  It is a poorly conceived effort to damage a jewel of a public school system and siphon my tax money off into religious schools.  

And it’s huge.  In its first year, it would offer scholarships to three times as many students, proportionately, as the D.C. program.  

In the 5th year, it could be giving out as many as 17,000 scholarships per year.  Today, there are only 22,000 private school students in all of New Hampshire!  

There’s no targeting to poor people or failing schools in the New Hampshire program.  And there’s no educational accountability for the participating schools.  

New Hampshire could send $100 million in 5 years mostly to people who don’t need it – they’re sending  their children to private schools already.  It couldn’t be worse.  There’s no public purpose for this program at all.

A good case can be made for using vouchers as Washington, D.C. does, as a part of a program to fix failing schools.  However, the NH program is not a serious voucher program.  When considered together with the other anti-public education legislation in the NH legislature, it is clearly part of the effort to dismantle our public school system and replace it with religious schools.

This is the point Bill Duncan makes in his 1/9/12 OpEd in the Portsmouth Herald.