DNHPE 5/10/12 Voucher Update: It's gonna be tough, but we could actually save New Hampshire from the very bad voucher program

posted May 11, 2012, 4:24 AM by Bill Duncan

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:

  • House vote: The House will vote on SB 372 next week (more on that below)
  • Committee of Conference: The Senate has passed both SB 372 and HB 1607 but is a different from so the bill will go to a Committee of Conference.  The committee will issue a Conference Report, to be voted on by the House and the Senate.
  • House and Senate vote: The Conference Report will surely pass in each body, but hopefully not by a veto-proof majority in the House.
  • Governor's signature or veto: We are optimistic, based on recent statements, that the Governor will veto the bill.
  • House and Senate attempt to override the veto: They would need 2/3 of the members present in each body to override the veto.  We have the best opportunity to sustain the veto in the House.

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.