Rep. Gregory Hill testifying on SB 372 to the Senate Education Committee, 2/14/12

posted Feb 18, 2012, 3:33 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 18, 2012, 7:17 AM ]
Rep. Hill is one of the voucher sponsors and appears to be managing the bill in the House.  It's worth watching his 2 1/2 minute testimony.  Transcript and and commentary are below. 

Rep. Gregory Hill testifying to the Senate Education Committee, 2/14/12

Rep. Hill says at 0:25:

"I'd like to address two criticisms of this bill - one that it is not going to be used and one that it is going to be used to much.  I'd like to simply point out that when this bill is passed and implemented, it will be up to the parents to decide if it is a good idea or a bad idea.  

"If they think it is a bad idea and they are perfectly happy with their education for the children that they are getting at their public schools and no scholarships are applied for or awarded, the plan design means that the state is made whole.  In other words, there is no effect to either the tax revenues or the adequacy funding if parents want their child in public schools.  No harm, no foul.

"If the customers of public education - the parents - are happy, the plan goes away.  The fixed costs for the program are minimal."

DNHPE Comment: No one has made the argument that private school parents would not take free money.  So Rep. Hill appears to be responding to the UNH Granite State Poll (here) in which parents and voters of all stripes reject the use of public funds to help children go to public schools.  

This is voters and taxpayers saying they don't want Rep. Hill's voucher bill.

In fact, the sponsors of the bill have no analysis of demand at all, but they are probably relying on the fact that if the state offers to give people $2,500 (less for home schoolers), they'll take it.   After all, 2,500 children leave the public schools for private and home schooling each year and there are 22,000 children already in public schools.  Half of them will probably be eligible for vouchers, so why wouldn't all who qualify apply?  Even if there was not much new demand for free government money, they could reach the program's limits by giving the money to students who were going to leave anyway.

"Finally, I must confess to not getting the idea that somehow it's OK for wealthy people in this state to put their children into a school that may suit the educational needs of their children, but it's not OK for low and moderate income people to do the same."

This position as anti-poverty crusader and class warrior is new the the sponsors of the school voucher program.  The means testing provision was not in the bill until the Senate Education Committee demanded it and then the House resisted at first.  So now the bill has the loosest means any program in the country offers - $67,0000 income for a family of four - and the sponsors have become anti-poverty advocates?

The sponsors have compromised on the means test and will make almost any compromise to get the program in place.  Whether he knows it or not, Rep. Hill is a foot soldier in a national "school choice" movement.  The quote from the movement ‘s godfather Milton Friedman in  “Public Schools: Make Them Private” says it best:  “Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a free-market system.”  
"And it seems curious to me that when these wealthy people remove their children from the public school, I have not heard a single word about the loss of the state funding for any of those children. The process by which the state stops funding the public school when a child, any child, leaves the system is exactly the same as this bill, as it has always been.  It's only that the time line may be different.  But that can be remedied by passing real time accounting.

"According to the figures given to us by the DOE, the school population dropped by roughly 3,100 students for various reasons last year.  Curiously, I did an on-line search in the states newspapers and not a word was written about the devastation in the public school system when the state funding for those children stopped.  

"By the way, that was one of the highest years in the last 10.  This bill would, at most, remove less than 2,500 students from the public school system based on the size of the program being at $8 million."

Rep. Hill should attend a school board meeting if he wants to assess the impact of the slow, long term erosion in school enrollment.  Enrollment in New Hampshire public schools has decreased an average of 1,400 students per year in the last 10 year.  So if the 2,500 student's Rep. Hill's voucher bill would fund were added, that number would triple, seriously exacerbating an already serious demographic problem for our public schools.  It won't be reach that worst case scenario because many of the vouchers will go to students who would have left anyway or who are already in private schools - students who obviously don't need the voucher to go to private school.

But the voucher sponsors have planted a time bomb in their bill: the program will automatically expand at 25% per year if 80% of the tax credits are used.  So it could grow like a virus consuming the public school system, even if it only expanded every other year.