Testimony on SB 372 to the House Ways and Means Committee, 4/24/12

House Ways & Means SB 372 Subcommittee meeting, May 2, 2012

posted May 2, 2012, 6:08 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 2, 2012, 7:21 PM ]

DNHPE Note: In the context of this subcommittee meeting, it is interesting to read this new anti-voucher editorial by the very conservative Foster's Daily Democrat.

House Ways & Means SB 372 Subcommittee meeting, May 2, 2012

Sen. Forsythe (R-Strafford)

posted Apr 25, 2012, 6:14 PM by Bill Duncan

DNHPE Comment: You can see from this that the committee is starting to tire of this ever changing bill.

Sen. Forsythe presenting SB 372 to the House Ways and Means Committee

Larry Ballard, Amherst, NH

posted Apr 25, 2012, 3:27 PM by Bill Duncan

Larry Ballard, Amherst, NH

Testimony in opposition to SB 372 before House Ways and Means Committee. Larry Ballard, April 24th 2012.

Senate Bill 372 is not a “scholarship” in the traditional sense where someone makes a contribution of private funds to a tax-exempt charitable organization. This is a funding mechanism by which public tax dollars are diverted to private, religious, and home schools. Calling it a “scholarship” does not make it so. It’s a voucher program, and recent UNH polling suggests the public strongly opposes vouchers.

The New Hampshire State Constitution prohibits applying tax dollars to religious schools. Part I, Article 6 (“no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination”) and Part II, Article 83  (“no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of institutions of any religious sect or denomination.”).

SB 372 does not appear to contain any safeguards that would protect against use of public funds for sectarian uses, something the NH Supreme Court has advised as unconstitutional through a series of opinions dating from 1955 through 1992. This includes an opinion issued on October 31st, 1969 where the justices advised against contributions “to the support of parochial schools also support sectarian education which is not a public purpose."

My other concern is the lack of academic accountability. There seems to be no meaningful data-informed method of assessment to determine the effectiveness of the schools receiving these voucher funds. There is no testing of student academic achievement using either the NECAP or any other nationally recognized test. There is no reporting of the results in a manner that allows the state to analyze the results based on grade level, gender, income level, learning disabilities, or graduation rates.

The only form of accountability in the bill to determine the effectiveness of schools receiving vouchers is a parental satisfaction survey that asks three questions on a scale of one to five. That’s only three levels of data away from smiley face versus frowny face, and probably just as unhelpful when it comes to determining student achievement.

Every public school must submit to these assessments, the results of which provide information to the public relative to the effectiveness of instruction paid for by public tax dollars – why is this use of public tax dollars exempt from the same accountability methods used by public schools?

The idea of vouchers is nothing new. After emerging from a study committee and multiple hearings before both House and Senate committees, Senate Bill 372 still contains significant issues in the areas of assessment and significant questions as to whether it may even be constitutional. This bill remains a flawed concept with an even worse method of implementation, and I urge this committee to recommend SB 372 as Inexpedient To Legislate.

Tom Southworth, Dover, NH

posted Apr 25, 2012, 2:57 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Apr 25, 2012, 4:49 PM ]

Tom Southworth before the House Ways and Means Committee

Testimony on Senate Bill 372 (Tom Southworth, Dover, NH)

Why would New Hampshire give millions of dollars to private schools at a time when there are not enough financial resources for public education, higher education, and school building aid?

Competition:  There is an assumption in this bill that New Hampshire public schools need to improve and that somehow this scholarship plan will affect the “quality of education” and will “create incentives for schools to achieve excellence”.  How is this possible? There has already been competition between public and nonpublic schools for many years.  Even in the top achieving NH districts, parents choose nonpublic options. All schools need to be constantly evolving, but the high achieving schools don’t need the competition and the lower achieving schools will have to compete with fewer resources.

NH Assessment Facts:  NH students rank near the top of the nation on national assessments such as the NAEP.  In 2011 NH students ranked #2 in grade 4 Math, #3 in grade 4 Reading,      #6 in grade 8 Math and #6 in grade 8 Reading. Any proposed legislation for schools should reflect the facts about student accomplishment.

The NECAP scores have been unfairly used to criticize the progress of NH public schools. The 2012 preliminary AYP results show that only 13 districts (approx. 8%) missed Adequate Yearly Progress in Reading at the whole school level while 24 districts (approx 15%) missed AYP in Math. The problem with the AYP formula required by NCLB is that all subgroups must make AYP. If there are a few low scores in a subgroup, such as Educational Disability, that subgroup can miss AYP.  If a subgroup misses AYP, the school and district miss AYP. Thus, statements about the number of schools missing AYP must be put in the context of a flawed formula.

The true picture of the public education assessment results is generally positive with 10-15% of schools needing ongoing support.

Taxes:  The cost of public education will increase over time and additional revenue will be needed. As the total funds allotted to the scholarship program increase, state revenues from the business tax will decrease, and the burden on taxpayers will increase.

Senate Bill 372 is carefully thought out and well-written. Much attention was given to the design of the scholarship plan and business tax credit program. It includes safeguards surveys, a study, etc.  Why not use the energy and funds in this program to help the 10-15% of NH schools that are not making AYP?  The millions of dollars could be used for budget items such as technology, reading specialists, teacher training, and restored building aid.

Finally, this bill does not benefit the majority of NH children or taxpayers.  It will progressively weaken financial support for public education.  It does not fit New Hampshire.

Why:  Why would New Hampshire give millions of dollars to nonpublic schools at a time when there are not enough resources for public education, higher education, or school building aid?

Nate Greenberg, Londonderry School District Superintendent

posted Apr 25, 2012, 12:56 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Apr 26, 2012, 11:50 AM ]

Superintendent Nate Greenberg to the House Ways and Means Committee on HB 372


Testimony to:              House Ways and Means Committee

RE:                             Testimony in Opposition to SB 372 (Revised April 24, 2012 in response to Senator Forsythe’s testimony)               

DATE:                        April 26, 2012

FROM:                       Nathan Greenberg

                                  Superintendent of Schools

                                  Londonderry, NH

Good afternoon.  My name is Nathan Greenberg.  I have the privilege and honor of serving as the Superintendent of Schools for the Londonderry School District.  I am here today to testify in opposition to SB 372 and by extension opposition to HB 1607.  I am in opposition to the proposed legislation for a variety of reasons including philosophical and legal.  I will, for purposes of brevity and recognition that others have or will address the aforementioned issues more eloquently than I, focus on downshifting of costs to local taxpayers and accountability.

  • Downshifting/Creating Donor Cities and Towns

As the bill is written, students leaving a school district would in essence take their adequacy money with them.  One student less in a classroom or a grade level would not reduce the fixed costs for a school or a school district.  The loss of the student would not change fixed costs such as staffing, heating, transportation, etc.  Thus, the $4,112* loss in adequacy aid would have to be made up by local taxpayers.  To expand the above concept, if three to five students were to leave the district at each grade level, the district would lose upwards of a quarter of a million dollars with no reduction in fixed costs; creating a downshift to the local taxpayers of that sizeable sum of money.  In essence, the local tax base would be subsidizing private school education.  Specifically in Londonderry, we receive $3,893 ** in State Adequacy Aid.  Thirty percent ($1,306) is local tax dollars, aka, state-wide property tax.  Thus, in essence, the Londonderry taxpayers would be sending $1,306 per student out of the district.  Thus, what has been set up with the mechanics of this bill is something this legislative body fought to eliminate in another arena; the elimination of donor cities and towns.  What has been proposed in this bill is the creation of a financial function creating donor cities and towns all over the State.  The “old donor town” concept was sending public money from one public entity to another with the same educational and financial accountability systems.  This bill would send public money from a public entity to a private entity with no comparable accountability provisions.  Too, keeping in mind that Londonderry receives $2,587 per student from the State (State’s share of adequacy) which is only $87 more than the $2,500 scholarship that would go to a private school; and for that $87 per student, the school district must comply with an arms-length list of accountability requirements (educational and financial), while the total accountability for the private school is a three-question survey, completed by the parent.  This does not balance out as a transparent use of public dollars.

Furthermore, tax revenue from business taxes under this plan would be reduced.  This does not make sense particularly in a time when the State has already reduced its funding of catastrophic aid as well as vocational tuition and transportation aid adding to the financial burden at the local level; let alone the potential impact of pending court action regarding the retirement system and proposed legislation regarding same.

Lastly, it should be noted, there is no prohibition in either tax credit bill prohibiting the utilization of these “scholarships” for out-of-state private or religious schools.  In summary, the equation is simple:  LR (Less Revenue) + FC (Fixed Costs) = DLTP (Downshifting to Local Tax Payers).

  • Accountability (Educational/Financial)

With all due respect to the sponsors, a three (3) question survey to the parents is not an accountability plan for a scholarship that amounts to the equivalent of over 60%* of an individual student’s adequacy aid (using fiscal note figures).  The “plan” lacks any method for judging student progress, school performance or financial accountability.  This “accountability plan” aside from its lack of educational and financial accountability has no assurance that the schools receiving these “tax dollars” will comply with all appropriate federal and state laws and regulations (i.e. non-discrimination, 504, etc.).  This lack of accountability (educational and financial) is intentional as evident by the language of II(a), under purpose which states “Allow maximum freedom to parents and non-public schools to respond to and without governmental control provide for the educational needs of children, this act shall be liberally construed to achieve that purpose.”

Thus, for $87 per student more than a private school would receive, the Londonderry School District for example must meet all State educational and financial accountability requirements, while a private school receiving the $2,500 scholarship has no obligation to meet any of those accountability provisions.

Thus, in conclusion, this bill and its cousin (HB 1607) will downshift costs to local taxpayers, increasing local property taxes; create donor cities and towns; and will not provide any legitimate form of educational or financial accountability; as well as having the potential of sending tax dollars via the State and local taxpayers to out-of-state private and religious schools.

Please consider these arguments against this bill and vote no.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

*Based in fiscal note

**Based on statutorily guaranteed adequacy (stabilization money not included)

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