Supporters say "No need for low income targeting...it happens by itself"

The line you hear is, "There is no need for the legislation to target low income families.  The non-profit scholarship organizations do it automatically - just like you  don't have to tell the Salvation Army to help poor people."

To support that proposition, advocates cite the " Harvard University study on Arizona's education tax credit program shows that non-profit scholarship organizations disproportionately fund low-income families even in the absence of a state mandate to means-test."  (attached below)

First, the author is Vicki Murray, a fierce school choice advocate from the libertarian Pacific Research Institute, not an academic researcher from Harvard.  Based on Mr. Bedrick's response to a question about whether this study can actually be attributed to Harvard, this study does not meet the qualifications, which are this:

From Harvard’s “Use of Name” Policies

This Part contains the standards for the use of the Harvard name by members of the University community acting in their individual capacities. The standards for use of the Harvard name by the University and its Schools and units are contained in Part I.

    1. Faculty members, staff, and students may use or authorize the use of the Harvard name (alone or in conjunction with the name of a specific School or unit) to identify any activity, individual, entity, or publication only with the approval of their Dean or the Provost, except as described below.
    2. Faculty members and staff may use the Harvard name to identify themselves (e.g., "Jane Doe, Professor of Economics, Harvard University"). In using or authorizing use of the Harvard name to identify themselves in connection with activities conducted with outside individuals and entities (e.g., authoring a book), faculty and staff members should assure that the Harvard name is used in a manner that does not imply University endorsement or responsibility for the particular activity, product, or publication involved.
    3. Students are permitted to use the name of a School or unit only with the approval of the responsible official of each School or unit or, in the case of the use of the name on merchandise, the Harvard Trademark Program.

Second, her conclusion does not show that the Arizona "scholarship organizations disproportionately fund low-income families."  It says, after a lot of qualifications about the quality and completeness of the data, that the recipients' median family income during the 2009/10 school year was $55, 458.  This is not "low income," but almost 300% of the federal poverty guideline.

Far from a "Harvard university study," this is not a peer reviewed academic paper at all.  It is basically the Pacific Research Institute defending a school choice program against attack from the Arizona Republic and other newspapers.  The papers had written that the wealthy people benefited from the Arizona Education Tax Credit program.  The author did the best she could, but Arizona did not pass the "Salvation Army" test that advocates like to invoke for why plenty of money will go to poor people even if the state does not target it in the legislation. 

The author does cite The Arizona School Choice Trust to make her case that the money goes to low income families.  The Arizona School Choice Trust is a Scholarship Organization that definitely does target low income families. Based on its web site, looks like a wonderful group.  It gives scholarships of 90% of the tuition amount to any family under 185% of the federal poverty guideline.  Of course it reaches low income families.  It performs a very important service - in Arizona.  

But its approach would not be possible in New Hampshire.  Here, scholarships must average $2,500.  Some scholarships can be higher but, basically, the scholarship will be too small to help families with incomes as low as those helped by Arizona School Choice Trust. 

The author goes on to argue with the newspaper's proposition that, because scholarships went to families already in private schools, the scholarships went to "wealthy" families.  The author quotes an old study saying they weren't "wealthy."  

New Hampshire legislators have a different question to answer.  It's true that many families who are not wealthy send their children to private schools.  In fact, in New Hampshire, the proportion of private school children qualified for the federal free and reduced lunch program is pretty close to the percentage in public schools - 20-25%.  However, if families are sending their children without the voucher, the clearly do not need the voucher in order to send their child to private school.  The voucher program is not giving them a choice they did not already have. 

Therefore, the public purpose of giving that family a voucher is still in question.

The question always comes back to, if the purpose of the program is to benefit low income families, why not write that into the legislation?  Why rely on statistical data from far away reflecting some unknown situation?  Targeting would be no hardship on the SO's if that's what they were going to do anyway.

There is a debate between the New Hampshire Senate and the House on whether to target scholarships to low income families.  The proposed amendment to the Senate bill would target vouchers to 300% of poverty, or $60,000 for a family of four.  The House is, so far, not agreeing to the targeting.  

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Bill Duncan,
Jan 29, 2012, 5:54 PM