DNHPE 4/11/12 Special Report: The beginning of the end of the voucher story

posted Apr 12, 2012, 6:26 AM by Bill Duncan
There is enough to say about vouchers today that I will save very important material about HB 1403, the anti-International Baccalaureate bill, until tomorrow.  For the moment, suffice it to say that the Bedford School Board, which implemented IB in 2008, had a very productive meeting with their legislators and community Monday night in which parents and students voiced overwhelming support for IB as they have experienced it in Bedford.  Here is a very good (and accurate) report about the evening in the Bedford Patch.  Be sure to scan the comments as they are a good representation of the debate in microcosm.

On to vouchers.

Good Coverage

Here is a pretty straight-forward report in Sunday's Union Leader.  Note the quote from Senator Forsythe implying that the accountability issue is addressed the proposed voucher plan (there isn't). And here is a great 5 minute video by Nashua Telegraph statehouse reporter Kevin Landrigan describing the voucher proposal and the political state of play.

Hearing Scheduled

The public hearing on HB 1607 before the Senate Education Committee has been scheduled for next Tuesday, April 17, at 2:00PM in LOB 103.  Please come.  Although everyone involved knows eachother's positions by now, it will be important to present our closing arguments.  It is particularly relevant to tell the committee how we see it at this point because the proposal is complex and the legislation has changed a lot since it was introduced.

Legislators Misunderstand the Voucher Bills

Legislators who have voted on the bills, and even some of the co-sponsors, actually know little about how the proposal would work.  Some may have serious misunderstandings.  As a result, there may even be an opportunity to change votes. Senator Ray White (R-Bedford), for instance, was in the Senate majority voting in favor of SB 372.  Here he is responding to the Bedford School Board's (gently expressed) concerns about the voucher plan. He makes two major points about the bill but has a misunderstanding in each case, one about the tax credits offered and another about the cost to the school districts. 

In another case, Rep. Will Smith (R-New Castle) said at a March 30 meeting at the Exeter Library that the program was a "trial" that would end in 2017.  One of his colleagues must have corrected him because, after the article came out, he emailed the reporter to say that he had misunderstood and it wasn't a trial and would not end.  That's a pretty big error, but is another reflection of the sales pitch advocates use.  They say the program starts very small, in kind of a pilot mode, and can be changed in response to experience.  The problem is that the legislator who really understands the bill and doesn't make errors when speaking about it is the author and prime sponsor, Senator Forsythe (R-Strafford).  But he is leaving.  And while the program and its impact on our schools would grow automatically and rapidly over time, getting future Legislatures to agree on changes would be complex and politically difficult.  So a sales pitch that says, "Let's just get started and fix it as we go,' could be seen as overly facile.

Another example of legislators too easily accepting the sponsors' sales pitch is on accountability.  There is no provision in the plan for academic accountability.  But some Senators think there is.  Here is a short discussion of the 3 question parent survey that Senator Forsythe calls the accountability provision of his bill.

What we need to do

As complex and misunderstood as the voucher plan is, we have a good chance of defeating it.  Virtually all House Democrats will continue to oppose it.  And if we hold the 49 Republican votes we got on March 29th, we will sustain the veto. 

Here is the list of representatives who voted against HB 1607.  If your reps. are on this list, please call them.  (You can email as well, but be sure to call.  Just click on the name to get their contact info.)  Thank them for their opposition to the voucher bill and, for the Republicans, let them know how important it is to you that they continue to oppose it.  Ask them if they will continue to oppose the plan when SB 372 comes to the floor and if the Governor vetoes it.  Let me know what they say.  

I have talked with a good number of the "no" votes already and their opposition feels solid.  They scrunch up their faces as say, "This is a terrible bill!"  Here are the quotes from last Friday's update.  But some have also reported that they are under heavy pressure to change their votes.  So they definitely need to hear from us.  It matters.

If you have Republican representatives who are not on that "no" list, they are on this list, the full roll call, including those who did not vote.  There were 70 republicans who did not vote, many of whom will be there for the SB 372 or override votes.  Calls to them are particularly important.  

Not having been there for the floor speeches, they may be a little vague about the bill, so be prepared to orient them.  No detail is needed.  Just a sentence or two, like, 

"It's the business tax credit plan that would give kids private school scholarships.  It would be paid for by reducing state aid, so it would increase local property taxes."  

If they say they would vote "no" vote or you can persuade them to, let me know.  We will reach out to them again just before the vote.

Key points

At this point in the debate, here are the key points to make in opposition, in committee testimony or on the phone:
  • The plan is complex.  Even the co-sponsors don't understand it.  Passing it would mean committing future Legislatures to an unknown.
  • The plan would be costly to our school districts.  The students leaving our public schools with vouchers would take the state money with them.  There would be no material savings to the schools so that lost revenue would have to be replaced by local property taxes - downshifting.  If you need a tutorial in how this works, Kevin Landrigan's video is good, or you can call me.  Basically, the State offers businesses tax credits in induce them to give scholarship money.  Then, when a child take the scholarship, the State holds back the school aid to off-set the business tax credits.  The school doesn't save any money so the budget is the same but revenues have gone down so its up to the local property tax payers to make up the difference.
  • Tax revenue from business taxes, the only taxes we have in New Hampshire, would be reduced.
  • Most of the families getting the vouchers would have sent their children anyway.  The $2,500 scholarship will not be enough to make a difference to the lowest income families.
  • There would be no accountability for the public money going to private schools - no way to monitor the student’s educational progress or the quality of the school.
  • Senator Stiles, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, has looked at it very closely.  She understands the bill probably better than anyone else and she voted against it.

If we follow through on this, we will stop "this terrible bill!"