Past email updates and releases are collected here.
Past Email Updates and Press Releases
Vouchers, education funding, CACR 13 (banning an income tax) and CACR 6, (requiring a 3/5 majority or both houses of the Legislature to approve new taxes) and many other important issues are coming to a head over the next several days. But on Thursday, the Governor, the House and the Senate agreed on language for CACR 12, the education funding amendment. I'll report on that here.
Granite State Progress video'ed the yesterday's press conference. The star of the show was House Speaker Bill O'Brien, right at the beginning. I wrap several of his quotes into this opinion piece that ran this weekend in the Portsmouth Herald and Concord Monitor. Here is the House leadership pitch for the amendment. You'll notice that it emphasizes the preservation of local control, an appeal to the large freshman class of Libertarian House members.
DisStaso tees up the vote this week here in the UL. The short of it is that the new CACR 12 language (here) is no better than any previous version. State aid to education would be a year-to-year decision by the Legislature, essentially without appeal. The straight-forward result would be higher local property taxes and under-funded public education. This and many other good reasons to oppose it seem to be taking hold. The Portsmouth Herald today continued to support the amendment, but with a notable lack of conviction. Concord Monitor and Nashua Telegraph continue to be firmly against it. Here is a review of the amendment by lead Claremont attorney, Andy Volinsky. Here is a very strong piece by Rep. Gary Richardson, who favors an amendment that would actually target aid to communities in need.
This will be a very close vote. You could have a big impact on the future of your state if you called and emailed your representatives and urged them to oppose the amendment. You'll have your own good reasons to oppose the amendment, and you don't need to say much, but here's is a crib sheet.
Reasons to vote against CACR 12
New Hampshire children would no longer have a fundamental right to an adequate education.
The New Hampshire Constitution declares that our children have a fundamental right to an adequate education, comparable to the right to vote. Legislative actions are held to a "strict scrutiny" standard by the New Hampshire courts. That means that, if challenged, the onus is on the State to show that its actions meet the intention of the Constitution to provide an adequate education. If CACR 12 passed, education would no longer be a fundamental right in New Hampshire. Legislative actions would need only meet a "rational basis" test. The legislature would have "full power and authority" to exercise its responsibility to maintain a public education system. The courts would be bound to presume that reasonable effort is constitutional and only overturn a law on inescapable grounds. If a law is rationally related to a legitimate legislative purpose, the courts would be bound to consider it constitutional. Under this standard, a New Hampshire community would virtually never prevail in a challenge to education policy or funding.
It would shift the even more of burden of education funding to the local property tax.
CACR 12 removes any floor under the state contribution to public education. In 2012, $578 million, 20%, of the $2.9 billion annual budget for New Hampshire public education came from state aid. This funding is targeted to the communities most in need. But the Legislature cut that by another $140 million for future bienniums and without the constitutional protections, future legislatures are likely to cut more. All of that would have to be replaced with increased local property taxes or reduced instructional program.
CACR 12 does not promote more effective targeting of aid to communities in need than we can do now.
The obstacles to targeting are political, not constitutional. The State can effectively allocate state adequacy aid to communities most in need now. CACR 12 would allow the Legislature to allocate any desired level of funding on a strictly political basis with no regard to need, balance or fairness. If targeting were actually the concern, the Legislature could propose an amendment that would establish those requirements.
The amendment ensures a never-ending political debate over education funding and introduces unpredictability into local property tax rates.
With no constitutional guarantees or established formulas in place, the decision on how much to fund education and how to allocate it across the state would be made anew each biennium. Communities that rely on the aid would need to mount a lobby effort each budget session to protect or expand their allocations and would need to remain vigilant at all times for rule changes that might put them at a disadvantage.
There is no protection against "donor towns"
The amendment contains no prohibition against donor towns. For instance, a Legislature desiring to lower business taxes could raise all state wide education funding from the State Wide Education Property Tax and redistribute it state wide according to a politically determined assessment of need. The reason there are no donor towns now is the political power of the Coalition Communities. The same would be the case after CACR 12. Political power will continue to be the only protection New Hampshire's wealthier communities would have against contributing to the education of children in poorer communities - through the property tax, gas tax or any other mechanism.
The amendment allocates "full power and authority" to the Legislature at the expense of both local control and judicial branch checks and balances
CACR 12 is one of several amendments seeking to eviscerate the role of the Judiciary in the conduct of the State's business. The Courts are our only means of redress citizens and communities have. In addition, local school districts have far greater control over their schools than in most any other state. This amendment would eliminate that local control.
House leadership is in a shambles. House Majority Leader DJ Bettencourt and Robert Mead, on Bettencourt's staff, are wrapped in separate scandals. House Speaker Bill O'Brien has made no comment or response. All this is happening just at the crucial moment when the House and Senate are negotiating the final shape of many bills, including CACR 12, and organizing for override votes on bills vetoed by the Governor.
One possible veto target is SB 372, the voucher bill. It passed both houses with veto-proof majorities but disarray in House leadership, combined issues raised in the major investigation of education tax credits by the New York Times, make a veto sustaining vote possible in the House.
I've been working on a reexamination of the final voucher bill in light of the new perspectives offered by the Times report, and that will come as soon as possible, but there's just too much happening not to get an Update out to you today.
CACR 12, the education funding amendment
My own discussions with legislators of every stripe give the same sense reported here in the Union Leader this morning: it's going to be hard for Republican leadership to pass any version of CACR 12, especially one with language that Governor Lynch will support.
Senate leadership, Sen. Jeb Bradley and Senate President Peter Bragdon, have said repeatedly that CACR 12 is viable only with the Governor's support. But Governor Lynch would give the Legislature the responsibility and authority to fund education while a large caucus of libertarian House Republicans is committed to increased local control and firmly opposed to an amendment that would affirm state authority over education. (Here is one explication of the views held by many of these legislators, "CACR 12 Poses a Threat to the First Amendment Rights of NH Public School Students," from New Hampshire Families for Education.) This group may not be as large as the 100 votes Gary Reno reports in his column today, but it is large. They, together with solid opposition from House Democrats committed to continued state funding for education, would be enough to kill the amendment.
Though this fundamental divide between the Governor and the House libertarians appears impossible to bridge, Rep. Bettencourt has been trying. He is very conservative and has made the leadership case forcefully to the libertarians (Here is his pitch). But whether he resigns today or June 6th, he will probably no longer be an asset in passing CACR 12 and other leadership bills.
There is a certain irony in the ideological split among Republicans. The libertarian legislators elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave have given Republicans their powerful super-majority in both houses but they now constitute the obstacle to passing the most important legislation sought by leadership and the Republican party establishment, whom libertarians see as "big government Republicans."
The results of negotiations among the House, the Senate and the Governor's office will probably become visible at the meeting of the CACR 12 Committee of Conference scheduled for Tuesday, May 29, at 3:30 in LOB 210. Here is video of the CACR 12 Committee of Conference to date.
The Senate has sent SB 372m the voucher bill, to the Governor, who may or may not veto it. The votes are there in the Senate to override a veto and it is clear that on May 16th, at least, the Republican House leadership had the votes to override. Only 2 Senate Republican and 17 House Republicans voted with Democrats against vouchers:
All Senate Democrats and all but 2 House Democrats voted against the voucher bills.
Another 29 Republicans who voted against vouchers on March 29 voted for SB 372 on May 16. I've called a number of them and got essentially the same answer from everyone. They did not seem to feel pressured to vote for the voucher bill. Sometimes they were persuaded by colleagues who made the point that this was really not "vouchers" but private money and that it is targeted to lower income people.
But what really persuaded them in most cases was the new provision placing a .25% "cap" on the amount of money a school district could lose under the plan. The fact is, the .25% cap leaves substantial opportunity for revenue loss. A school district like Littleton, with a $30 million budget, for instance, could find on the first day of school that they would face a $75,000 revenue loss for that year, a significant cost to the instructional program. We will be looking for ways to make that case to legislators if the Governor does veto the bill.
The blockbuster event, coming a few days after the House vote, was the New York Times piece by Stephanie Saul, exposing the misuse of education tax credit funded vouchers in Georgia, with some reference to Arizona and Pennsylvania. Relying heavily on a report from The Southern Education Foundation, "A Failed Experiment: Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarships for Private Schools," the Times skewers the Georgia program.
The Georgia program differs in size and in many other ways from the New Hampshire plan, but there are interesting comparison's to be made:
DNHPE 5/14/12 Update: Our emails have generated a productive debate: no need for more "snookered" emails
If you haven't already sent the "snookered" email from Saturday's urgent mailing, don't. We're done. We've been heard. We've never used the mass-email approach before and probably won't need to again, but I have to say, it generated some very productive exchanges.
Thank you for the great response,
DNHPE 5/13/12 Action Alert: National voucher advocates have launched a telephone campaign in support of the voucher bills!!
I'll bet none of us anticipated something like this...Please send one simple email in response.
The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the engine behind the national effort to privatize public schools, has mounted a campaign in New Hampshire to build a veto-proof majority for the big vote in the House this Wednesday (May 16, though it could be Tuesday or Thursday as well) on the New Hampshire's voucher bill - a bill originally drafted by the the Alliance for the Separation of School and State and the Cato Institute.
In other words, these and other national groups have ganged up to have their way with l'il ol' New Hampshire. All this outside attention is an effort to make New Hampshire another poster child in the national effort to privatize public schools. This was not a program needed in New Hampshire or requested by New Hampshire voters (as confirmed by the UNH Granite State Poll). It has been pushed by temporary legislators swept into office in the 2010 Tea Party wave.
The prime sponsor is Sen. Jim Forsythe, among the leadership of something called the "Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire," a group of Free Stater and Libertarian legislators, itself a local chapter of the national Republican Liberty Caucus, who's mission is to "advocate the principles of individual rights, limited government, and free enterprise. We work in the Republican Party because we believe it is the best vehicle for bringing about the political changes we want." (Translation: they consider themselves aliens colonizing the Republican party.) Senator Forsythe, famous for the bogus poll he ran to persuade his colleagues to support the voucher bill, is a freshman who will not run again. Rep. Greg Hill, shepherding the bill in the House, is another "liberty" freshman who has said he will not run again.
The Friedman group seems to feel that the New Hampshire voucher plan would not stand on its own merits, because the calling script misrepresents it. One recipient of these calls reports, "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 caller then offered to patch her directly into her representative's phone!
Actually, poor families are not involved in the plan. Families with annual incomes of $67,000 can receive vouchers. Nor could truly low income families afford to supplement the $2,500 voucher to pay New Hampshire private school tuitions. As to "underperforming schools," New Hampshire's public education system ranks in the top two in the country. It's fair to say that a voter who called her representative based on that kind of information would have been misled into making the call.
Therefore, we need to go beyond our normal sense of how to let our elected representatives know what we think. I would ask that everyone who receives this email take a very simple step:
Please send the following email to all our legislators. Just put these two email addresses in the To field: "All Representatives" <HReps@leg.state.nh.us>, "All Senators" <Senators@leg.state.nh.us> . Paste the following subject line and message into your email:
Volleys in the CACR 12 education funding amendment debate are coming fast and furious. Here is a thoughtful piece by from Foster's two days ago by Rep. Phillip Munk, a first term Republican legislator from Somersworth. We don't agree with his conclusion supporting CACR 12, but he frames the issue in a useful way: "Voting on CACR 12 will not be voting on a free lunch. One way or another, we will pay for education as we always have. The question is how shall we do it."
And, interestingly, two very different sources reach the conclusion that no education funding amendment is likely to pass this year, getting the required 239 votes in the House. First, the Portsmouth Herald, which supports the amendment, nonetheless concludes that, with so many shadings of opinion among House members, there's no way it will get the needed support. And yesterday, the hyper-conservative, bombastic (but good vote counter) Republican representative from Manchester, Steve Vaillancourt, reached almost the same conclusion while giving an insider's view of the Speaker's arm twisting to gain support for the amendment.
It appears that, so far, Democrats and many "liberty" members of the House continue to be strongly against it. We should pile on and add our voice. There is something for everyone not to like in this amendment because it allocates "full power and authority" to the Legislature. Conservative Republicans don't like it because that would eliminate local control over our schools. Democrats are opposed because it removes the legitimate role for the courts. Both are right - this is a very bad amendment.
In addition, we want to point out to Democrats that the amendment eliminates almost entirely the state responsibility to fund public education. The New Hampshire Constitution promises to educate every child. This amendment breaks the promise of public education to all our children.
Your representatives' phone numbers and emails are here, if you know their names, and here if you don't. Let them hear from us. If they're Republicans, you'll help them stand up to the Speaker. If they're Democrats, you'll assure them that they're doing the right thing to oppose the amendment.
Noise at the right time is good. This is the right time.
DNHPE 5/10/12 Voucher Update: It's gonna be tough, but we could actually save New Hampshire from the very bad voucher program
From now on, I'll send mostly separate Updates on vouchers plan and the education funding amendment.
The House Ways and Means Committee yesterday voted 14-6 to recommend Ought to Pass on SB 372, the private school voucher plan.
This party line vote was inevitable but it is clearly a tough vote for a number of senior House members. Leadership is strongly behind the bill and these senior members, often part of leadership, feel obligated to deliver their support. But, in many cases, they know this is a bad, fiscally irresponsible bill. Here is Rep. Russell Ober (R-Hudson), Clerk of the House Ways and Means Committee, fully conscious of the trouble he is creating for himself by opposing the bill. Rep. David Hess (R-Hooksett), who also has a leadership role, expressed similar misgivings in a subcommittee meeting last week.
Others have spoken out as well. Here is David Kidder (R-New London) speaking against the sister bill, HB 1607, on the House Floor, on March 29th, when 49 Republicans voted against the bill. And here is Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare) speaking against it on the same day.
The bill has changed since the vote on the House floor. An amendment supported by Rep. Kurk now caps the amount that can be deducted from school aid to .25% of the budget. So Rep. Kurk can be expected to support the bill now. However, others like Reps. Ober, Kidder and, possibly, Rep. Hess remain opposed.
Several more steps before the end.
We will have to be prepared to react as the next events unfold but here are the basic steps we can anticipate:
On the House floor next week
Since all bills must be voted on by Thursday, May 17, the Speaker has scheduled sessions for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. SB 372 will be voted on one of those days, mostly likely Wednesday. We know the bill will pass. Our goal is to hold the vote below a veto-proof majority. The vote on HB 1607 in March was 173-127, far short of the 2/3 that would be needed on a veto override. All Democrats but one opposed the bill and 49 Republicans joined them in opposition.
We can rely on the Democrats to vote as a block against the bill, as they did last time. But we also need to keep most of those Republican votes, That's where we need to show our strength in contacting members and writing letters to the editor.
I will work with what I'm calling the Voucher Push Team on the all-important task of contacting individual members. (Let me know if you want to join.) Other Defenders should continue to write letters to the editors.
Here are the points we'll be making in the next week
The plan looks small but it is large and costly. In the first year, it will issue $3.4 million in tax credits and give vouchers to about 1,700 students, 22% of which are likely to be home schoolers. By the third year, the program will issue $6.4 million in tax credits and be funding about 3,100 students and it starts costing the state money. By the 10th year, the program could be issuing as much as $30 million in tax credit and funding over 17,000 students. Regardless of the size at that point, all of that money would be coming out of either the school systems or state revenues.
There are no real benefits. About 2,500 children leave public schools for private and home schools each year - without the need for a public subsidy. Most of the kids receiving vouchers would have been able to go to private school without them. The $2,500 for private schools and $650 for home schoolers is too small to make much difference anyway. It just reduces the amount parents and schools must raise.
The public schools will be damaged to fund this new investment in private schools. The schools are losing students yearly as a result of New Hampshire's demographic changes. The voucher program will aggravate the problem. As the schools shrink, overhead per student will go up and the quality of the instructional program will go down. Private schools will be selective in the students they accept, leaving public schools with shrinking instructional resources to support the harder to educate children.
The plan includes no academic accountability for the schools receiving all that public money. The sponsors have steadfastly resisted any form of academic accountability. As a result, the program shifts money from public schools accountable to their communities to private schools with no educational accountability for the results of the public investment.
This is an unconstitutional allocation of public funds to sectarian schools. Part I, Article 6 of our state constitution states in part, “No person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination,” while Part II, Article 83 states in part, “Provided nevertheless, that 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.” A 1969 NH Supreme Court case dealt specifically with tax credits and a legal challenge arguing that businesses are being used only as an intermediary to deny a direct, unconstitutional, connection between the taxpayer and a religious school, would well be successful.
Our schools are great in New Hampshire. This kind of program is not needed. Voucher programs have a place as part of a plan to fix poorly performing school systems. But New Hampshire is one of the two top school systems in the country. In February's highly respected UNH Granite State poll, 68% of parents were satisfied with their schools. There is no need to fund alternatives.
The plan is unpopular. No one is asking for it. The Granite State poll shows that only 27% of New Hampshire voters support using tax credits this way. Businesses have expressed no interest in funding the voucher program. And, because it offers a higher (85%) tax credit than New Hampshire's community development tax credit program (70%), it will put the community development program at a disadvantage.
First, I'll report that regular folks defending New Hampshire public education had a good win last week. The Senate Education Committee voted unanimously, 5-0, to recommend Inexpedient to Legislate on HB 1403, the anti-International Baccalaureate bill. It appears that the bill will be voted on by the full Senate on May 16 and, while it always must be said that anything could happen, the Senate is virtually sure to agree with its Education Committee and kill the bill. The students of Bedford High and parents, teachers and school board of Bedford and Merrimack Valley deserve big credit for marshaling sentiment against this bill (which never should have got beyond being some House freshman's bad idea).
Stopping the voucher bills
Many of you have volunteered to call and email to try to stop the voucher bills. If you haven't and want to, please let me know. It hasn't been the right time for those calls yet because the bill and support for it have been in flux, but the push will start on Thursday morning. That next week, until Wednesday, May 16, will be intense and inconvenient. But the pay-off will be big: if we can stop the voucher program and the education funding amendment, we will have been successful in avoiding damage to public education in New Hampshire legislative session - the high water mark for the Tea Party in the New Hampshire Legislature.
HB 372 was scheduled to be voted on by the House Ways and Means Committee today but is now postponed until after the 10:00AM House session tomorrow. The details of the most recent (as of this weekend) amendment to the bill are here, but there may be another amendment tomorrow.
The sponsors are amending the bill to gain more House support, but the details are not the real issue on this bill. There is almost universal editorial opposition. Here is the Nashua Telegraph today, saying, School tax credits don’t make grade - "...no matter how cleverly you craft the language in the bill, the bottom line is it would take money now going to public schools and divert it to private and religious schools, leaving cities and towns to make up the difference." More recent opinion ishere.
There's lots of fodder there and in past Updates for letters to the editor and to members of the House.
The education funding amendment - CACR 12
The new language, being circulated as a compromise by House leadership, represents the final stage of this year's education funding drama. The Committee of Conference is scheduled to meet at 10:00 AM on Tuesday, 5/15/12 in LOB 210-211. It may not be clear until then how the Senate will react to the proposed House language.
Here is a summary of the state of the education funding debate today. But on the substance, this is not a close call. Like the previous versions, the House language for CACR 12 purports to solve a problem that does not need solving. Under the guise of targeting education funding to the communities most in need, the new language enhances legislative power at the expense of constitutionally-based local control of our schools. "The Legislature shall have," it says, "the full power and authority [to set public education standards and funding]...as it may judge for the benefit and welfare of this state," repeated twice, lest we miss the point that it would no longer be about local control and our kids.
And this is clearly not a Legislature to which we would want to allocation education funding authority. We already know what it would do. It has reduced the level of funding it says is required for an adequate education by $140 million and has tried to eliminate federal funding that comes into the state. Now, the Speaker is running on a promise the cut $400 million from the state budget to fund cuts to the business taxes that fund education. There is no question where those cuts would be made if the constitutional amendment passed. State support for public education would go to virtually nothing.
Nonetheless, some editorial support for the amendment continues, regardless of the language. The Union Leader, in its fourth editorial, and Foster's, in its third, continue to support the amendment, as does the Portsmouth Herald. The Concord Monitor, saying, "Let's not got back to the bad old days," and the Nashua Telegraph - "why are so many...willing to gamble with a constitutional amendment that in the wrong hands could prove to be a tremendous disadvantage to the future of our children and the state they call home?" - continue to oppose.
Defenders should weigh in. Let your Legislators and newspaper readers know that we have no need for this or any other education funding amendment.
Let's go for it!
Here are two editorials from New Hampshire's two most conservative newspapers that it would be great if Defenders of New Hampshire public education could send as widely as possible to our Legislators.
The first is in today's Union Leader: It says, "The International Baccalaureate (IB) program grew out of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. So it must be a Commie plot to take over America."
The second is the "Choice for all must be the promise," editorial in yesterday's Foster's: "Ideologically, it is easy to support legislative efforts by school choice advocates. In practice, the decision is not so clear cut." Together with other rumblings among conservatives, even leadership, in the House, it begins to sound as if the the mood could be taking a turn in our direction.
The UL editorial on IB should go to Senators (emails here). The Foster's piece should go, separately, to both Senators and members of the House (House member emails here if you know the name, here if you don't.). They don't have to be only your own delegation - send widely. But they will be most effective if you send them individually and include a tiny note.
These are great. Let's make the most of them.
All three is these remaining issues are important and interesting. It'll be worth reading to the bottom.
CACR 12 - the education funding amendment gets (secret) new language
You may have read about the new language House Republican leadership is circulating. Here is Saturday's Union Leader report on it. This language is just as bad as all the previous attempts, if not worse. This new proposed amendment gives the Legislature sole discretion over all funding and how it will be raised ---- effectively taking the Courts out of protecting the rights of every child. The New Hampshire Constitution promises to educate every child. This amendment breaks the promise of public education to all our children.
There is no way to predict the timing of the next steps, but time remaining in this session is short, so the Legislature will act on this soon.
HB 1403 - The anti-International Baccalaureate bill gets hammered
The Senate Education Committee hearing on HB 1403 was on Tuesday, May 1st. It was instructive. Most clearly, it showed the high cost of electing self-indulgent legislators. HB 1403 was originally sponsored by 5 House freshmen who, since their side lost a school curriculum debate, have tried to use their legislative positions to override the local process. Their effort ignited in the House Education Committee a suspicious faux-patriotism fueled by fears that US and New Hampshire "sovereignty" could be undermined by the UN or Communists.
You can't be sure the adults in the Legislature will prevail and kill a silly bill like this. So students, parents, teachers and administrators from Bedford and Merrimack Valley school districts and citizens from around the state, have spent weeks opposing the bill in meetings, petitions, Facebook pages and in every other way they can think of. It all became visible at Tuesday's hearing. Here is great, detailed post from Ryan O'Connor in the Bedford Patch and coverage in the Union Leader and on NPR.
But if you click on nothing else, watch this video of the testimony of Wolfeboro resident John R. White who came down to testify apparently because he just couldn't believe what he was reading in the paper. For an odd counterpoint, watch this testimony by Senator Ray White (R-Bedford), who describes himself as a libertarian conservative and will not be seeking another term. Finally, here is Don Graff, Bedford School Board chair, giving clean and crisp testimony on the process Bedford used to select the IB curriculum and how it has performed. (There were other great witnesses but I couldn't get them all.)
It's hard to see how HB 1403 survives this assault. The sponsors see that, in its current form, it will be defeated. They have offered a face-saving amendment that would form a study committee that would report by November 1, 2012 and establish a moratorium on new IB programs in New Hampshire until then. As a practical matter, a study committee at the end of the second year of the Legislature could not lead to a bill. If the Senate Education Committee passes HB 1403 out to the full Senate with that amendment and the Senate accepts it in that form, it will go to back to the House is that form where it could pass or go to a Committee of Conference.
The House Ways and Means SB 372 Subcommittee met today, Wednesday, May 2. This same group of 5 representatives met for 8 sessions over several weeks to work on HB 1607, but the sponsors of the bills have made many changes since then, hoping to make the bill more acceptable to the the House (which passed the voucher plan on March 29th, but not with enough votes to override an expected veto). The subcommittee felt there was insufficient time left in the session to adequately review the new changes and, from what they could see, the bill would no longer be revenue neutral, which they consider essential.
Therefore, they voted to recommend the SB 372 be sent to Interim Study. The meeting was short and very interesting. Here is the video.
At virtually the same moment today, the Senate voted 17-7 in favor of the sister bill, HB 1607, and sent it to the Senate Finance Committee, which will make a recommendation before the full Senate takes a final vote.
All this amounts to a dramatic turn of events. The voucher plan will probably be voted on several more times by both bodies before it's over. At this point, the plan is defeatable, but the detailed steps will not be clear for several days.
The Last Public Hearing on the Voucher Plan (SB372)
Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 24
(Note: I said 2:00 last week...my error)
House Ways and Means Committee
Legislative Office Building, Room 202
I hope I got your attention. These are the closing days for the voucher bill and it's hand-to-hand combat. Voucher supporters are pulling out all the stops. There is a new amendment to SB 372. It is attached to the bottom of the page, here. It is intended to get the votes needed to pass the bill with a veto proof majority. They were 40 votes short of that goal last time and we need to hold as many of those as possible or it's all over.
The new draft attempts to get the needed votes by spinning two fictions. The amendment appears to protect the school districts from the high cost of the voucher plan and appears to provide a form of accountability. The bill actually does neither. We need to make sure the Legislature hears that message.
Sign up for the closing push
The period between the hearing tomorrow and the final House vote on SB372 will be critical. I had anticipated that the vote on the House floor would be Wednesday, May 9, but there appears to be enough work to do on the bill that it may not be until May 16. We will know more tomorrow night.
Until the vote, we will need to communicate frequently by phone and email with a critical set of legislators - the 49 who voted against the plan on March 29 and those who were absent.
I would like to put together a roster of people who would make a firm commitment to help do that. The phone calls will mostly be messages. That's fine. The emails will be to the whole group. I'll provide the names, numbers and messages. It's not hard work but it will require real attention.
If you can help, let me know. I'll figure out how much to plan to do according to how many people we get.
Now, here's why the supporters' sales pitch is nonsense.
The 1% Cap Fiction
When the House voted on the HB1607 voucher bill on March 29, Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare) spoke out forcefully against it because it downshifted costs to the school districts. Since then, Sen. Forsythe has negotiated a new provision (it starts on P. 11, line 27) that could appear to address his concern. It says that, if the voucher program reduces a school district's adequacy grant (state aid) by more than 1% of the school's total grant amount, the State will give the district a "stabilization grant" for the amount over 1%.
Why is this a fiction? The program size is small initially - only $3.4 million in tax credits. That's about .6% (that's point six percent) of the size of the total $578,000,000 statewide adequacy grant. So a 1% cap doesn't matter much. No school is likely to hit the cap. But the key to the voucher plan is that it starts small and grows fast - by 50% between the first year and the second year and up to 25% per year after that.
And the "cap" increases in proportion!
So in the 10th year, when the program could be giving as much as $32 million in vouchers to 12,000 students, the cap on the cost to the school budget would be at 8.9% of their adequacy grant, a huge hit to find out about in September of the school year.
And the kicker is that state aid to many communities is capped at a level below what the formula would give them. Bedford, for instance, gets only $830 per student in state aid. But the voucher program would take away an average of $4,300 per student. Many towns have a similar story to tell.
The 1% cap is smoke and mirrors. Supporters sell the plan to as revenue neutral because it takes money from the schools' adequacy grants. Legislators need not think of the tax credit as a real cost, they say. But now they are telling those concerned about the schools that it won't really take their money either!
The real cost of this fast growing plan has not changed. Whether it comes out of the state's general fund or the education trust fund that was supposed to go to the schools is immaterial. There's no reason New Hampshire should spend its tax money helping children go to private schools.
There is still no accountability for the money
Most, by far, of the recipients of these funds will be small Christian schools that require no specific qualifications of their teachers and have no publicly available record of academic performance. Senator Forsythe says that accountability provisions he added have drawn support for the bill from moderate senators. But there is no academic accountability in the bill. (Here is the accountability proposal we made back in February.)
In the new amendment, the scholarship organizations do an optional parent survey (P5, line 18) and the NH Department of Education designs an annual "Scholarship Impact Report" (P. 3, Line 31), to be completed by the school districts, on why the students left the district. This is a tortured exercise designed to yield nothing.
Many states have extensive academic accountability requirements but the baseline is always:
This would be far simpler and more useful than the softball surveys included in the bill.
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