The Voucher Debate

On Saturday, May 12th, Mimi Silverman wrote her friend Dianne Bzik,

....I just received a phone call telling me I can help poor children get out of underperforming schools by supporting SB 372/HB 1607. The woman wanted to directly connect me to John Graham's office so that I could urge him to support this bill....

Alarmed that the Friedman Foundation would misrepresent the voucher plan this way, DNHPE sent out this email to its members and subscribers.  That resulted in a number of email exchanges, many copied to all legislators, a selection of which is posted below in no particular order.

From a Rep.

posted May 14, 2012, 3:02 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 14, 2012, 3:02 PM ]

Response to the "snookered" email

I'm conflicted on this.

On the one hand, you have the ideal of an educated citizenry via the public school system, and a workforce with a minimum of literacy for a competitive edge in the world economy.  Worthy goals.

On the other hand, I have my personal experiences.  I fared poorly in the public school system.  Think Lord of the Flies.  Think cliques, bullies, and teachers who backed up the bullies as they enforced a social hierarchy and took pressure off of school authorities. It was only because my parents had some resources that I was sent to private schools and I was able to graduate.  I would have dropped out, such was the harshness of my town's public school system..

Response from DNHPE

Yes, many of us have had good public, private and home school experiences.  Over 2,500 children leave New Hampshire schools each year for private and home schools, although something over 20% of them do return within a couple of years.  And among the kids who leave, almost the same proportion are qualified for free and reduced lunch (about 20 or 22%) as are in the total enrollment (about 25%).  

So kids of all income levels leave public school for private schools now and their parents (and the schools) find a way to make it work.  And, of course, they would all apply for vouchers under the proposed program.  No doubt, some kids who would not have gone to private schools otherwise will go with a voucher.  But many, or most, won't have needed it.  This is a pretty marginal public benefit for the many millions of public dollars New Hampshire would invest in this program.

There can be a role for vouchers as part of an effort to fix failing school systems, but ours are in generally good shape and this program is not targeted to failing schools as programs in other states are.  Reaching poor kids and underperforming schools is the sales pitch, as the Friedman Foundation script says, but the program is really, as Milton Friedman said, about the long term project of privatization of public schools - getting the government out.

Response from an different legislator

Declining student populations, student-per-teacher ratio's growing smaller and smaller, lots and lots more aides and counselors in classrooms and schools than ever before, continuously falling test scores coupled with dumbed down testing to make crummy test scores publicly palatable, just an unbelievable number of functional illiterates "graduating" high schools, almost all of whom are unprepared for the real world, senior teachers so totally frustrated with misdirection on the part of state board and DOE functionaries, their stomachs in knots, in droves literally counting the days and minutes to retirement and, finally, countless prospective employers without competent graduated applicants to hire [so might as well send jobs to more educated and interested workers in China and who knows where else]- and Mr. Duncan defends this careening downhill race.  Public education isbroken, broken, broken.

It's time for lots more competition. It's time to throw out all the pass-the-buck-defend-the-indefensible fraudsters in education hierarchies. 

It's time to reinstate what once worked.

Response from DNHPE

Your email clarifies the choice before the Legislature.  

A legislator who feels as you do that American public education has failed and is beyond repair would support SB372, the education tax credit bill, because it leaves public education behind as a failed venture and builds in its place a private, market-based alternative.

But a legislator who feels that our nation's education system is a precious asset and that we need to respond to today's challenges rather than replace public education with private school vouchers, will vote against SB372 this week.

The rest is details.

From a Rep.

posted May 14, 2012, 7:08 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 14, 2012, 7:08 AM ]


Response from the Legislator

Milton Friedman was perhaps the greatest economist of the last century and without a doubt, the greatest of my generation. His record for being correct on economic theory is astounding - and I should believe you and this mailing instead?

Response

Thank you for the courtesy of your reply.

Yes, I do believe you should carefully consider the central role that public education has played in making our nation's society so creative, open and free. Any re-direction of public tax dollars (in the form of vouchers) that weakens public education weakens our comity and our capacity to understand each others' differing perspectives.

I am a proud product of New Hampshire public schooling. I believe public representatives such as yourself have a responsibility to defend and strengthen our public schools.

From a Rep.

posted May 13, 2012, 1:48 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 14, 2012, 4:12 AM ]

Response from Legislator

You should not have to use a canned petitioned response to a bill. New Hampshire’s schools second best? By whose accounting? Your one size fits all (public school system) from your Federal Department of Education (Arne Duncan) admits an expected failure rate of students across the country of 82%. New Hampshire is heading on a path of educational mediocrity, much like New Jersey. The New Jersey Supreme Court mandated high cost per pupil (much like NH) in poorer “abbott schools” and had little results except bankrupting the state. SB 372/HB 1607 will be minuscule aid to families and will have little affect on the $2.8 billion dollars spent on public education. For your information, the 5400 known homeschoolers save the state over $75 million per year. In his book, “Free to Choose”, Friedman supports economic freedom and not bureaucratic entities to form our educational philosophies. This concept gives parents a choice and that is the most “local control” of their child’s success. Private schools in many cases spend much less per pupil with better results. If you accept the status quo, then our kids will be significantly shortchanged over the long haul..
 
Response

Sorry for the mass email but, with the Friedman Foundation making such a big investment in misleading New Hampshire legislators, it was the best we could do on short notice.

On the question of the quality of New Hampshire schools, there can be little doubt that our schools are among the best in the country. That high "failure rate" is not really an indication of the quality of our schools. A school can "fail" is only a couple of children or a small group fail to achieve yearly progress.

Vouchers are sometimes part of the solution for bad schools but that's not the case here. Our schools are much better than those in New Jersey, as you can tell by following the links on this page.

SB372 is small at first, $3.4 million in tax credits, but grows by 50% between the first and second years and could grow at 25% per year thereafter. If the program grew at the rate allow in the bill, it could have issued $130 million in tax credits in its first 10 years. That money would come out of the state coffers or the local property tax. Either way, it would not be good.

Milton Friedman wanted to shut down the public school system and replace it with a system of private schools (see Public Schools: Make Them Private). That is what we object to and what we think New Hampshire legislators should vote against.

From a Rep.

posted May 13, 2012, 1:45 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 14, 2012, 4:14 AM ]

From the Legislator

I would like to know more regarding the poor being ineligible for vouchers. Given the poor performance of our public schoolsand our dismal worldwide ranking in education could you suggest some solutions to this problem. Obviously money is not the answer, what is?
Sincerely,


Response

x forwarded your email to me.  I would say that the problem with a voucher plan in a state like New Hampshire where the public schools are good is that it represents a disinvestment in our public education system.  The message is, "We're 24th in the world, so let's leave the public school system behind and create a private, market-based alternative."  But we now have 20 plus years of voucher and education tax credit experience, and the private (and charter) school results are the same as in the public schools.  Mostly, they're not worse, but they're not better either.

There can be big debates about how to improve the public schools and we might have big disagreements about it.  But that's a productive debate compared to giving up and moving on.

Response from Legislator

Me thinks if MS. x is learned enough to send a plea on a subject I presume she favors then she ought to be knowledgeable sufficiently about the subject to discuss it.
I do thank you for your opinion and explanations.


Response e

She is, y.  But I follow the issue in more detail, so she's give me her proxy... :)

Response 

Well since you asked about how to improve student performance in our schools, I will share with you my research findings from a large federally funded research study conducted in Manchester, NH with its very diverse student population. The study looked at literacy gains for students using my art-and-literature-based approach to literacy learning as compared to demographically matched students in the district. Please note, in particular, results for "below benchmark readers," Special Education students, Title I students, economically disadvantaged students, and English language learners. More about the model on my website, link below.

I don't think vouchers are the answer, but rather professional development in programs proven effective in our public schools. 

Response from Legislator

I just received additional information from Ms. Oshansky perhaps once digested it will give additional information relative to my concerns.
Sincerely

Response

Great, y.  I look forward to discussing it with you.

From a Rep.

posted May 13, 2012, 1:42 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 14, 2012, 3:59 AM ]

From the Legislator

Amazing x..you are doing the same ...I.e by the so-called other interest groups..which I have not received any email from....only groups like you.

All I can say is ..."June 2002, the United States Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers are a Constitutional way to put parents back in charge.

And, also. on Monday, April 4th, 2011 the following was rendered in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brought to the U.S. Supreme court by the ACLU; the majority of the Justice's ruled in favor of Arizona, and upholding its ruling on April 4th, 2011, and on Monday's 5-4 ruling expands  long-standing court precedents that citizens don't have standing to legally challenge taxes they don't like simply because they're taxpayers. 

The decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by the court's more conservative members, preserves Arizona's school voucher program that is funded by tax credits offered to state taxpayers.

As a New Hampshire State Legislator, I took and out to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution and the New Hampshire Constitution.

Response

Vouchers may or may not be constitutional in New Hampshire, but our objection is on the substance rather than the legality.  We think that a tax credit funded voucher program builds a costly and unnecessary alternative to our public school system.  And it does not get better results than our public schools do, so it does not provide enough public benefit to be worth the many millions in public cost.

From a Rep.

posted May 13, 2012, 1:39 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 14, 2012, 4:00 AM ]

From the Legislator

The current student voucher propoal is that it is paid for by a source other than the local property rax.  I beleive it actually uses Business Enterprise Tax dollars.  That sounds innocent enough, but the BET is  only slightly different from... hold on to your hats...a personal income tax.  This could lead to further changes in our antiquated tax system.


Response

Yes, the vouchers start out being paid for by tax credits against both the BPT and the BET but the program then takes as much of the money as possible back from the school districts, so it ends up being paid for by the local property tax.  If you accept the sponsors' assertion that the program would be revenue neutral, even over the long term, then the whole program is funded by the local property tax.  

In reality, the amount from each source could vary but, in the end, it's millions in public money applied to the goal of privatizing our public schools -  not something we need to be paying for. 

From a Rep.

posted May 13, 2012, 1:37 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 14, 2012, 4:01 AM ]

From the Legislator

I'm conflicted on this.

    On the one hand, you have the ideal of an educated citizenry via the public school system, and a workforce with a minimum of literacy for a competitive edge in the world economy.  Worthy goals.

    On the other hand, I have my personal experiences.  I fared poorly in the public school system.  Think Lord of the Flies.  Think cliques, bullies, and teachers who backed up the bullies as they enforced a social hierarchy and took pressure off of school authorities. It was only because my parents had some resources that I was sent to private schools and I was able to graduate.  I would have dropped out, such was the harshness of my town's public school system.

Response

Yes, many of us have had good public, private and home school experiences.  Over 2,500 children leave New Hampshire schools each year for private and home schools, although something over 20% of them do return within a couple of years.  And among the kids who leave, almost the same proportion are qualified for free and reduced lunch (about 20 or 22%) as are in the total enrollment (about 25%).  

So kids of all income levels leave public school for private schools now and their parents (and the schools) find a way to make it work.  And, of course, they would all apply for vouchers under the proposed program.  No doubt, some kids who would not have gone to private schools otherwise will go with a voucher.  But many, or most, won't have needed it.  This is a pretty marginal public benefit for the many millions of public dollars New Hampshire would invest in this program.

There can be a role for vouchers as part of an effort to fix failing school systems, but ours are in generally good shape and this program is not targeted to failing schools as programs in other states are.  Reaching poor kids and underperforming schools is the sales pitch, as the Friedman Foundation script says, but the program is really, as Milton Friedman said, about the long term project of privatization of public schools - getting the government out.

From a Rep.

posted May 13, 2012, 1:35 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 14, 2012, 4:03 AM ]

From the Legislator

As we have corresponded before, maybe the public schools will have to be more responsive to their customers, the parents.  A concept that doesn't fit in the "one size fits all" seen in some schools.

Response

Thanks for your note.  I have enjoyed our back and forth on these issues.

I know there's a hope that competition will improve the schools but, so far, that has not turned out to be the case.  Competition already exists, of course, but even the studies cited by Friedman and the sponsors of our bill in New Hampshire do not actually show that there is any identifiable improvement in the public schools attributable to competition.

In Florida, for instance, they have an A-F grading system and just giving a school an F seems to have more impact on getting it moving than does the competition from vouchers.  Here's a post I put together on this issue.

And on "one size fits all": our schools are already open to adjusting to the child's needs.  And I would propose that the public expense of responding to this desire with a whole publicly-funded private school alternative is not justified.

Glad to hear from you.  

From the Legislator in Response

I am glad you have agreed that there is a need for change in the Public School System.  It is encouraging to know that we can agree on that.

The purpose of this legislation is so people who have less resources or are unable to home school to have a choice.  I am not sure if it will be the solution, however it is a start.

The one thing that I have learned in Concord is that everything is up for review or revision.  I will be supporting this legislation, however I am going to ask the sponsors to outline its success in the future.

Response

Absolutely, y.  We need to do big things to improve our public school systems in the nation.  My objection to voucher programs like this one is that it says, in essence, "We need to give up on the public schools and move to a private, market-based system."  That's the part I don't buy.

From a Rep.

posted May 13, 2012, 1:30 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 14, 2012, 4:05 AM ]

From the Legislator

The key element to the Tax Credit Scholarship Bill that this emailer fails to recognize is that ONLY the parents of children in public schools will (and should) determine if this is a bad bill or even if it is simply not needed.  If parents choose not to apply for the scholarships, then nothing happens.  No harm to the state.  No credits given to businesses who donate.  And if no children leave the public school, the state continues to pay the adequacy payments to the school district.   No one is forced to use the scholarships.  No one is forced to attend a private school or home school or even another out-of-district public school.  Parents decide to make those choices. 
 
She says, "Low income families would not be able to supplement the $ 2,500 voucher to pay New Hampshire private school tuitions."   With all due respect, Isn't that up to the low income families to decide if they can afford it?   But three points Ms. Merriam fails to see.....  
 
One:  The $ 2,500 scholarship is the AVERAGE scholarship amount.  Some will be higher, some lower. 
Two:  Other states, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island for example, have lower average scholarships than this program and they have found it to be workable.  So what is different about NH?
Three: Private school's regularly discount their tuitions to low income people.  Very few pay "sticker price." 
 
It is clear to me that this emailer is doing exactly what she accuses Friedman Foundation of doing........intentionally misrepresenting. 

Response

Rep. y is right that the decision of whether to apply for a tax credit-funded voucher is up the to parents (and the private schools who decide whether to accept them).  The problem is, New Hampshire voters and taxpayers don't want the program and would be left with the bill for a very bad piece of legislation.

Response 2

I respectfully disagree.  What this bill does, first and foremost, is divert what would be public revenue away from supporting our public institutions and puts it into the hands of private institutions which have little to no public oversight.  There are many ways to help low income families without in turn potentially causing harm to our public schools.  

1-9 of 9