Testimony to House Ways and Means on HB 1607, establishing an education tax credit to fund school vouchers
Rep. Lynn Ober, Vice Chair of the House Finance Committee, spoke to the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on HB 1607, 2/2/12
On February 2, 2012, Rep. Lynn Ober, Vice Chair of the House Finance Committee, spoke to the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on HB 1607, the school voucher bill. She expressed great concern about the cost of the bill and, as a school board member, the impact on New Hampshire public schools
Exchange prompted by email submission of Dr. Sarah Stitzlein testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, 2/23/12
When Dr. Stitzlein submitted her Senate Education Committee Testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, it brought an immediate reply from an advocate for the other side. Dr. Stitzlein's testimony is at the bottom, Jason Bedrick's response is next, reading up, and my response to him, incorporating feedback from Dr. Stitzlein, comes here at the top.
The voucher bill sponsors and advocates try to enhance their arguments any way they can. Here they do it by attributing greater authority to their studies than is appropriate. You see it in the bogus references to the "Harvard study" and the "study by the Florida Department of Education." This is discussed further in "This here study says everything will be OK".
From Bill Duncan:
Honorable Members of the House Ways and Means Committee,
You recently received Dr. Sarah Stitzlein's testimony to the Senate Education Committee. This is a serious, thoughtful, balanced and credible consideration of the issues in this legislation. The response you received from the advocates (included below) does not measure up to that standard. Here are my comments:
Mr. Bedrick starts with a reference to his Bartlett Center report, which I have commented on here. It should be read as an advocacy piece. Then he goes on to address several issues.
1. Private School Performance: Whenever you hear the phrase "gold standard," you know what you are getting is from the mother ship of voucher advocacy, the Friedman Foundation (as in Milton Friedman, who invented vouchers). The actual gold standard of research is peer review. If someone refers to a study, ask if it's peer reviewed. And then ask for the study and read the short abstract to see what it actually says.
In the case of private school performance in voucher programs, Diane Ravitch, the leading critic of public education in the country, pretty much puts the issue to rest in her new book Death and Life of the Great American School System. Here is an excerpt that says it all: there are no benefits to speak of, competitive or otherwise.
2. Accountability: The fact that parents can take their children out of private schools is no reason for there to be no academic accountability and transparency for private schools funded with public money. (Money that, in this case, is coming right out of New Hampshire's public school systems.) Florida and most new Education Tax Credit programs provide for in depth assessment of the academic performance of participating private schools. That's where all the voucher studies advocates refer to come from.
One of the leading school choice advocates in the country makes a passionate case for the need for good performance assessment in voucher programs like New Hampshire's (their reasoning is here) .
3. Reaching Low Income Families: Mr. Bedrick says that 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."
First, the author is Vicki Murray, a fierce school choice advocate from the libertarian Pacific Research Institute, not Harvard. Based on Mr. Bedrick's statements to me about this, it is clear that Ms. Murray's report does not meet Harvard's very clear guidelines, and is not qualified to be cited as a "Harvard study." This is relevant because voucher advocates consistent overstate the legitimacy of their studies.
Second, Ms. Murray's 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. (Dr. Stitzlein pointed out in her testimony that she, as a UNH prof. qualifies under these guidelines, though she would not feel right taking voucher.)
Ms. Murray's data analysis yields no insights on the proportion of scholarship recipients that are low income.
Click here for more on the "no need to target" argument
4. "Tax Credit Programs are Different From Vouchers:" Not at all. Advocates like to make this point because vouchers are unpopular, but tax credits are just an alternative court-friendly way to fund vouchers. More on that debate here. There are differences between tax credits and vouchers, but their impact in schools is nearly indistinguishable. They produce the same results. Research on vouchers is often used to assess tax credit programs.
But Mr. Bedrick goes on in this section to make a much more serious misstatement when he says that HB 1607 does not drain money from the public schools. Here's the reality:
That's about as direct as it gets: public school money is moved into private schools.
Then Mr. Bedrick even goes a step further, citing a study "from Florida's Department of Education," again overstating the legitimacy of the study. There is no study from the Florida Department of Education saying that voucher competition improves the public schools. His link goes to a magazine article on advocacy web site reporting on a study the the Calder Center, which has institutional funding from many sources including the Florida Department of Education. The study is not "from" Florida DOE and is not peer reviewed. The authors consider it a "working paper." It is a reconsideration of a decade old disproved theory that competition from voucher and tax credit programs improves the public schools. Here is a full critique of that proposition and that study. [In a subsequent email, Mr. Bedrick admitted his error in attributing this study to the Florida DOE, while saying everything else I say is wrong.]
Dr. Stitzlein and others at your own University of New Hampshire can provide reliable policy analysis on these issues.
Here is Mr. Bedricks email:
Written testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee submitted in response to Duncan testimony, Cornerstone Research, 1/24/12
DNHPE Comment: Mr. Moody's spin (highlighted below) aside, here is what he actually said (twice) on the radio program.
Which, of course, it the opposite of the argument Cornerstone will need to make in support of HB 1607/SB 372, the bills to fund vouchers with education tax credits.
Sometimes it just gets hard to remember which pocket you left your talking points in....
Testimony in Support of HB 1607 from Scott Moody. Vice President of Cornerstone Policy Research.
For the House Ways and Means Committee
January 24, 2012
Hello, my name is J. Scott Moody and I am the Vice President of Policy for Cornerstone Policy Research. I am submitting this written testimony to the Ways and Means Committee as clarification to written testimony presented by Bill Duncan of Newcastle. On January 23, 2012, Bill Duncan, who testified in opposition to HB 1607, included a statement in his written testimony that he attributed to Cornerstone Policy Research. He attempted to paraphrase a quote made by myself that he presumably heard on the July 17th show The Exchange on NH Public Radio. The show in question was a discussion about HB 542 which recently passed the House and is now law.
On this show, I said HB 542 was fundamentally addressing parental rights. Parents have the best knowledge to know whether a school is meeting their child’s needs. Competition is good for the private sector and it is also good for the education sector. If a public school isn’t meeting a child’s needs then a parent will look for alternatives like a private school or homeschooling. HB 542, which allows exceptions to be made for materials parents deem to be objectionable, puts the burden on the parent to pay for alternative materials and allows for the teacher and parent to come together and figure out a solution for the child. This is good for the child, good for the parent and good for the school. I believe what Mr. Duncan was referring to in his testimony was my statement that parents pulling their children out of public school would hurt the school’s bottom line: fewer children means fewer tax dollars to the school. My point was that public schools that aren’t delivering a product valued by parents risk losing students. So, if schools want to retain the students they have, they need to offer as good an educational product as their competition which may be private schools.
Thank you. Sincerely, J. Scott Moody, VP of Policy, Cornerstone Policy Research
Senator James Forsythe presenting the proposed program to the House Ways and Means Committee, 1/23/12
Testimony on HB 1607
Thank you Mr. Chairman. For the record, my name is Marjorie Porter, and I represent Hillsborough District 1, which includes the towns of Antrim, Hancock, Hillsborough, and Windsor.
In addition to my responsibilities here in Concord, I also serve on the school boards for the Hillsboro-Deering School District, and SAU 34. It is as a school board member that I stand in opposition to HB 1607.
Allow me to give you some background information. Hillsboro-Deering currently enrolls 1,320 students. 521 of them, or 39.4%, are eligible for free and reduced lunches. I suspect the number is actually higher than that, but people are proud in our town. Many will not ask for help, even if they need it.
216 of our students, or 16.4%, are identified as having special needs. We currently have 42 homeless students.
As you can see, we have a challenging population to educate.
Hillsboro-Deering is an SB 2 school district. Our school boards, past and present, have been frugal, but the rising costs of health insurance and fuel oil, among others, have hit us hard these past few years. The additional cost to the district as a result of the state’s decrease in contributions to the state retirement system for our employees has also left us scrambling. The increases in these expenses over which we have no control have been between $400,000 and $600,000/year in the years I’ve served on the board.
The district has been functioning with a default budget, or a budget set at default level funding, for most of the past 10 years, making it most difficult for us to meet the needs of all our students. Even so, due to DRA magic, the school’s portion of the property tax soared this year. As a result, the budget we are bringing forward this year is below level funding, and will result in loss of staff and programs.
Now, let’s say 26 of our students, 2 each from grades K-12, apply for and receive scholarships under the provisions of HB 1607, resulting in a loss of more than $90,000 in state funding to our district.
Our expenses would not go down. We would still need the same number of teachers per grade level, and the same number of administrators, so our employee costs would not decrease. We would still need to maintain our aging buildings, and heat them. Those expenses would not decrease. The costs for transportation and supplies would not decrease. The only thing that would decrease is the help we get from the state. We would be forced to go to the local property tax payer to recoup these funds. So for sure local property taxes would increase. Or we would be forced to reduce the quality of the education we provide, by cutting more programs or staff.
Unlike public schools, private schools are not compelled by law to accept students identified with special needs. I doubt many would be eager to enroll our special needs students who have behavioral challenges, or who need one-on-one help with toileting or medications. So it is highly unlikely that many of these 26 students who apply for and receive scholarships under HB 1607 would be special needs students. Most likely, most of our special needs students would be staying with us, and we would continue to absorb the ever increasing costs of educating them.
It has been said this program would give “poor kids choice too.” Again I have my doubts. My partner and I own and operate a private preschool/kindergarten in town. We are former public school teachers with advanced degrees. We offer an excellent program. We run the program out of my home to keep expenses down. It costs our clients $2660/year to send their four-year old to our three-morning a week preschool program. The $2500/year scholarship offered under this bill would not cover our tuition charges for this program.
For folks in Hillsboro, the closest private schools are in Concord, Manchester, Keene, or Dublin—at least a 25 mile drive. Tuition costs vary for these schools, but for information purposes, Bishop Brady High School in Concord charges a tuition of $9350/year; the Derryfield School $26,435, the Dublin School $26,650.
I doubt that many, if any, of our free-and-reduced lunch-eligible families, or any of our homeless families, would be able to afford the additional $6000-22,000/year to send their child to private school, and transport them there. These students would most likely be staying with us, and we would continue to absorb the ever increasing costs of educating them.
The bottom line is that our school district would lose some of our motivated, easier to educate students, we would be left with a higher percentage of challenging students to teach, and we would have fewer funds with which to do the job.
I urge the committee to think long and hard about the potential impact this bill will have on Hillsboro-Deering and other districts like it all over the state of New Hampshire. Less state money means increased property taxes, or decreased quality of our public schools. We can’t afford either.
Testimony of James Pinard, of the Granite State Christian School Association, to the House Ways and Mean Committee, 1/23/12
Mr. Pinard makes a number of the key points made by advocates for vouchers. Elements of this very important presentation are transcribed below.At 3:14 (3 minutes, 14 seconds): "It the same old song I hear. We've got to rescue public education. We've been rescuing it for 40 years! And where are we today? It's time that we began, instead of signing the same old song, let's begin to look at what the market can do. And I heard some statements before that I know that some people here hate and despise the market but believe me if you work in the markets you've got to produce the goods.
"And so if these schools don't produce the goods, they're not going to be there. Parents aren't stupid. The reason they keep sending their kids to public school is they have very little alternative."
"It is always within the context of some world view that education takes place. There's no neutrality in the public school system. The public schools of New Hampshire are no exception to this fundamental premise.
"And their reigning world view is that of a relativistic secular humanism which denies that there are any absolutes - which, of course, in a version of an ......
5:15 "Our nation, our state and our local communities are indeed facing a financial crisis of such proportion that it may well impact us negatively for generations to come if not dealt with in an appropriate and decisive manner. We cannot afford to continue with business as usual. 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.
"We need leaders of wisdom and courage who will rise to the occasion and chart a new course by bringing freedom of choice and competition into our educational process so that such opportunities will extend beyond the province of the well to do.
"If not you, who; and if not now, when?"
Testimony on HB 1607 establishing an education tax credit program
Ways and Means Committee
New Hampshire House
January 23, 2012
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to speak on HB 1607. I will speak in opposition to the bill.
I’m Bill Duncan, from New Castle. I’m a retired software entrepreneur. My children are in their 30’s now but they’ve been home schooled, public schooled and private schooled. We’ve done it all.
I’m here today, though, as a taxpayer concerned about HB 1607 because under this bill as currently drafted we could be spending over $100 million in 5 years on private, religious and home school vouchers or scholarships.
Over the weekend I read that HB 1607 may be amended to include the same state adequacy grant recovery provision that is part of SB 372. That’s clearly necessary because the savings the Fiscal Note says would accrue to the state would not actually happen. The transition funding continued in the stabilization grant provision of HB 337 means that that savings would not have materialized.
I also read that Senator Forsythe said that the bills will be amended to “ensure aid is targeted to needy students.” I assume that means students qualified for the free and reduced lunch program. Depending on what the amendment actually says, that could be an improvement.
But no matter what the students’ incomes are, the whole idea of using public funds to induce families to take their children out of the public schools and put them in private, mostly religious, schools just doesn’t make sense. Voucher/ETC programs fit where schools are failing. Our schools are not failing. Especially in this era of deep cuts it is hard to see why the state would now spend tens of millions of dollars – wherever it comes from – doing this.
I do understand the “choice” rationale. “Give parents school choice. Don’t make them hostage to the monopoly government-run schools.”
You say it right up front 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…”
So you want to use government money for parents to escape government control. I do get that that’s the purpose of this bill. But I do not believe that dismantling our public school system to replace it with private and home schools is a legitimate public purpose for state money.
Exhibit A to my testimony is a flow chart showing how the program works:
The bottom is the current system. State Aid, State Wide Education Property Tax funds and local property tax funds go to each school district.
The top part shows how the Education Tax Credit would work in year 1:
1. First, the state makes up to $15 million in tax credits available in the first year.
These numbers could change with amendments to the bill, but the basics do not change. This is a pretty involved process to siphon public money into private schools.
Exhibit B is a financial projection I’ve done based on the bill as currently written. This is just using the figures straight out of the bill. It’s hard to see, even aside from administration costs, how the program could ever be revenue neutral.
So HB 1607 would cost a lot. And there are no real benefits?
Most recipients will probably be students would could have gone to a private without the scholarship. For low income people, a $2,500 scholarship would not help that much toward most private school tuitions.
According to the minutes of the SB 67 committee:
• The average cost of a private education in NH
– Religious Elementary $5,228
– Secular Elementary $15,745
– Religious Secondary $7,664
– Secular Secondary $24,711
– Boarding $47,092
If you target only a portion of the scholarships, the rest would go to students who do not need them. The way the bill reads now, most will already going to private schools!
And there is no accountability for the academic performance of private schools getting all that new money. Advocates say those schools will be better, but how would we know? The bill requires no testing. And the program does not offer the choice of going to an out-of-district public school, where we could monitor the academic performance.
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."
As currently written, this is a large program. It could be giving $36 million to 17,000 students every year by the 5th year.
But even on a smaller scale, it would have a large negative impact on our schools, taking money and students out of the schools that are already suffering declining enrollment just from basic demographic changes. Even Cornerstone Research said on NPR last week how damaging it would be to take children out of the public schools under these conditions.
The message to public schools would be that their Legislature has given up on them and walked away. And they’re actually doing a great job!
It is clear what a bad deal this is for the state and the taxpayers.
I ask you to oppose HB 1607.
I am happy to answer any questions you might have.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 23, 2012
CONCORD - A proposed tax credit to subsidize students attending private, religious, or home schools would drain critical resources from public schools and other vital services, according to those who testified against House Bill 1607 today.
The House Committee on Ways and Means held a public hearing on the bill, which would create a tax credit for businesses that contribute to private scholarship organizations. The money would be used for subsidies to students attending private, religious, or home schools. A hearing on similar legislation, Senate Bill 372, is scheduled for the Senate Education Committee tomorrow at 1 p.m.
"House Bill 1607 and Senate Bill 372 would be costly for state officials to implement and would divert business tax revenue from public services to private interests. In particular, state aid to public schools would likely suffer, even though there is little evidence that students receiving subsidies to attend private school do better academically than their public school peers," said Jeff McLynch, executive director of the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute.
In particular, McLynch cited the findings of a July 2011 report by the Center on Education Policy, which reviewed numerous studies on the impact of publicly-funded voucher programs on student achievement and found "no clear advantage in academic achievement for students attending private schools with vouchers."
"In light of this research, a major diversion of public funds to private schools is, at best, difficult to justify," he said.
Data from the American Community Survey indicate that the typical income for a family with a child in private school was $97,200 in 2010, 25 percent higher than the income for a family with children solely in public schools. Yet, as McLynch observed, both pieces of legislation would ultimately permit all tuition subsidies to go to students who may never have attended public school in New Hampshire.