DNHPE Special Edition: New Hampshire Parents and Everyone Else Reject Vouchers by Huge Margins in Granite State Poll, 2/9/12

posted Feb 9, 2012, 1:28 PM by Bill Duncan
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Public School Parents, and All Voters, Reject New Hampshire's Proposed Voucher Program


Granite State Poll numbers, just out are, I think, a bombshell.  Public school parents, who should be the beneficiaries of the proposed state program providing money to help kids go to private schools, reject it by almost a 3-1 margin.  Why?  Possibly because 68% of them are satisfied with their local public schools.  And a solid majority of all voters say, by a factor of 2-1, that the state should not fund private school scholarship.  Even conservatives agree.  

The next public hearing on the voucher program is in the Senate Education Committee at 1:00PM, Tuesday, February 14, in Room 103 of the Legislative Office Building (This is a continuation of a hearing that started on January 24, 2012).  Come and tell the committee what you think.  Everyone should come - but especially if you are a school board member.  Check her for any changes.

Here is an update on what the proposed voucher program looks like to me at this point.

This large voucher program is the keystone piece in the Legislature's anti-public school agenda

Large Program
In spite of what the sponsors say, the proposed voucher plan is large.  Whereas Rhode Island, a state about the size of New Hampshire, started with 71 vouchers in 2006 and 4 years later, in 2010, was up to 511, the New Hampshire program could give vouchers to over 4,000 children in the first year and over 10,000 children four years from now.   New Hampshire schools currently lose over 3,000 students per year to demographic changes.  The proposed voucher program would almost double that.  In its first 10 years, if the program grew at 25% per year as the legislation allows, it could move 30,000 students from public to private schools and many more into home schools.  It's a lifeline to the private and religious schools - they've lost 22% of their enrollment in the last 10 years.  That's why you get over-the-top testimony like this.  

All this would cost the state and the schools systems hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The Program Changes Every Day
The plan changes constantly in response to questions - and just because the sponsors are figuring out this huge complex program on the fly as leadership presses to get it passed.  So if you call something black and the sponsors say no, it's white, you can assume that's because the current version of the amendment, possibly unwritten yet, has changed.  No one's being secretive.  The sponsors are committed to transparency.  But it's changing every day.  As soon as amendments to the current bills, HB 1607  and SB 372, are adopted, I'll forward the amended bills and my analysis.

Not Revenue Neutral
The plan is promoted as "revenue neutral" to the state.  It is not.  Here's how it works.  The state would offer $2,500 vouchers to incent children to leave their local public schools and, when the child left, would take an average of more than $4,100 in state aid from the child's school.  So it's like a direct fire hose of money from the public schools to the private schools.

The plan looks as if it makes a profit on every child and so could be revenue neutral.  But sponsors have not accounted for the students who would have gone to private school without the scholarship.  And vouchers also go straight to private school children.  In addition, when the vouchers go to children in grades K-3, the schools are not getting state aid for these kids in the first place, so there's no money to take back.  

Also, Republican leadership is trying to reduce state aid per student even further (HB 1473) than they have already.  If they succeed, the voucher program would only count on an average of $3,572 coming back from the school for each voucher student who leaves.

So depending on a lot of changeable details, the program could appear to break even in the first year (or not), but it loses money at an escalating pace throughout its life - up to $9 million in the third year and possibly over $100 million in the 10th year.

Big cost to the school systems
In total, over the first 3 years, the voucher program could spend as much as $55 million in tax credits and other costs, take $46 million of that back from the schools.  It will have reduced public school enrollment by 10,000 students and begun the process of dismantling our public school system.

The sponsors say, "Why not give every child the choice rich kids have?"
Their lead-off is always some version of "Rich families have a choice.  Why not provide choice for all kids?"  Rep. Adam Schroadter, R-Newmarket, gave a great version of this at a February 6 meeting of residents and school officials in Newmarket reported, here, in the Portsmouth Herald.  He said (emphasis added), 

"As I understand it, it's about allowing parents to have greater choices on how they're applying their tax funds or where they're sending their kids to school," Schroadter said. "It's really a philosophical question. Should you get to choose as a parent where those dollars are getting spent?"

Here's how I would translate his quote to make its meaning a little more explicit:  

"Should each parent get to choose how our public tax dollars are spent, allocating them to private, religious and home schools if they want?"  

The answer is self-evident.

They also say, "Private schools are better."
They go on to say that private schools provide a better education.  Often, this is just implied, as in "Our public schools are failing, so we need to give parents the choice [to go to better private schools]."  But as a group, private and charter schools do not outperform public schools.  If you have any doubt about this, here's some reading.

"The competition from the voucher program will improve the public schools."
Most voucher advocates actually know that the "better education" argument doesn't hold up, so they make the competition-is-good-for-the-public-schools argument.  That's a non-starter too.

"Tax credit scholarship programs are different from vouchers - it's private money."
Voucher advocates think that people like the "tax credits for scholarships" idea better than "school vouchers," so they'll talk about all the ways that tax credit programs are different from voucher programs.  There are legal differences.  Technically, tax credits are a court-friendly means of funding vouchers.  But no one believes there's a real difference in the impact the programs have on public schools.  Here's a page on it.

Sometimes you'll hear a version of this argument that goes, "This is private money going to scholarships, not public money."  There is a legal distinction that conservative courts have recognized but out in real life, no one believes that either.  Listen to Rep. Lynn Ober, Vice Chair of the House Finance Committee talk about cost.  Even supporters agree that the tax credits have a "fiscal impact" on the state and most would agree to call them a "tax expenditure."  And when, to off-set the tax credits, the state is charging the school districts real money for each child who leaves with a voucher, it's pretty clear that this is real public money we're talking about.

No accountability for academic performance
The proposed program sends big money to private and home schools on the premise that these are a viable alternative to public schools but they say, "There's no need for academic accountability the private schools.  Parents can take their children out if the are not satisfied."
Lack of accountability lead to big scandal in Florida and buyer's remorse in Ohio.  Why assert that private schools will do better but not provide for the same kind of accountability for educational results that many other states require? There's no good reason, as we discuss here.  

Means testing
Voucher supporters say, "There's no need for means testing.  The scholarship organizations target to low income people anyway, if only to complete better in raising money."  But the Senate version of the proposed amendment now includes the most minimal form of means testing - requiring 80% of the families receiving vouchers to have incomes less than 300% of the federal poverty level, around $65,000 for a family of four.  As of 2/2/12, the House has not agreed even to that, although the House Ways and Mean Subcommittee on the program does want to add it.  Here's a discussion of that where you also get a glimpse of the overselling advocates engage in.

Best to all,