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.