The Education Tax Credit (school voucher) plan.

posted Dec 8, 2011, 2:51 PM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Sep 14, 2012, 3:05 AM ]
Summary

The basic problem with the proposed voucher plan is that the students who leave with a voucher mostly don't need them and those that stay behind are left with a shrinking and damaged school system.

And property tax payers are left holding the bag, with increased property taxes, as the State induces children to leave and then reduces state aid in response.

The proposed program would grow automatically, sending public money to private, religious and home schools year-to-year while requiring no accountability from the private schools that benefit from the large new source of funding and students.

The voucher plan is nothing less than an attempt to dismantle our public schools and replace them with private schools.

The Portsmouth Herald sums it all up eloquently in its March 30 editorial, Voucher bills pose threat to public schools..


Detail

2/5/12 Update: Significant elements of the proposed school voucher program continue to be flux as the sponsors respond to questions from all side, most importantly the House Ways and Means HB 1607 Subcommittee, which expressed numerous concerns in meetings to date.  See selected portions of those meetings here.  

Analysis
The Senate's Education Tax Credit bill, SB 372, with Senator Jim Forsythe as the prime sponsor is here.  The House bill, HB 1607 is here.  They have been identical, with one major exception: SB 372 has introduced means testing.  It targets families with incomes of less than 300% of the federal poverty guideline, which comes to about $67,000 for a family of four.  HB 1607 does not have that provision, though the House Ways and Means Subcommittee firmly agrees with the Senate that means-testing must be part of the bill.  This issue may become a continuing point of contention.

We discuss voucher plan itself in this current article and discuss costs separately, here.  

There are over 20 sponsors on the two bills, including the leadership of both houses of the Legislature.  

And in the House, the bill is in the Ways and Means Committee.  A subcommittee has been working on it and the full committee will vote on it by March 20.  The full House could vote on it on March 21.

In the Senate, the Education Committee.has voted to send it to the Senate floor and it is scheduled for a vote on March 21.

For background, here are the materials of the SB 67 committee that worked on the issue in the Fall, although that committee is not taking the lead in drafting the bill.  


The Plan
This is a big, fast and loose plan for a small state.  Only Indiana offers a similar combination of unlimited growth and unaccountable private school participation.  No other state includes home schools scholarships in its voucher plan.

The current draft of the amendment provides $3.4 million in tax credits (this could change) to New Hampshire businesses that fund scholarships for students who are qualified to attend public schools but go to private, religious and home schools - or out of district public schools. The average scholarship would be mandated to be $2,500.  Scholarship of up to $750 could go for home schooling costs.  The scholarships are not targeted to low-income families. There is no requirement that the private schools perform well in educating their students.  

Businesses would get a 85% tax credit on their state Business Profits Tax, plus other tax benefits that almost fully off-set the cost of a contribution, in return for their contributions to scholarship organizations, which would select the recipients.

The program could grow dramatically, spending as much as $100 million of public money in the first 10 years.  It would fund scholarships for up to  1,400 students in the first year.

The Problems

It takes money from the school districts and puts it into private schools
In the first 3 years of the program, the new voucher program could take tens of millions of dollars out of New Hampshire school districts and put it into private, religious and home schools.  The state would offer $2,500 vouchers for private school tuition and, when a student took the voucher and left the public school, the state would take back the school's adequacy grant for the child.  The school would see no savings from the loss of a few children but their educational program would be cut.  In addition, the loss to the school districts would be much greater than when a student leaves under normal circumstances, as we discuss here.

But the program could grow quickly, moving as many as 10% of the public school students to private schools and taking as much as $100 million out of New Hampshire school districts over 10 years.

Many vouchers will go to families that don't need them 
The main argument made for vouchers and Education Tax Credit programs is that they enable low income students to choose a private school.  The amended Senate bill now contains a provision targeting vouchers to families with incomes of about $60,000 or less. However, the House has not agreed to that change and may not in the end.  

In fact, many of the vouchers will go to students already in private schools, so there is no argument that they need the vouchers.

Even when the students come from public schools, most would probably have been able to go to private schools anyway.  The $2,500 vouchers would be small to private school tuitions.  They would also be unreliable.  The way the program is structured, there are not enough vouchers to give follow on vouchers to children already in the program.     If you got a voucher and moved your child to a private school, you would have to apply again next year and would have no assurance of getting one.  So, if you actually need the voucher to pay tuition, you probably would not take your child out in the first place.  

No Targeting to Failing Schools
The usual rationale for vouchers/ETCs is that students in failing schools need an option.  Most programs target children in "failing" schools, defined in various ways.  The New Hampshire proposal does not do that.  Instead, advocates for the law make the case that New Hampshire's whole school system is failing.  This is incorrect, on the face of it (see the debate in detail here)

No Academic Accountability
Although advocates assert that the private schools students will attend are better than our public schools, there is no provision in the New Hampshire voucher program for monitoring the academic performance of the participating schools. There would be no way to hold the schools accountable for the public money they receive or assess the validity of advocates' assertions that the private schools will be superior.  Very few other states allow this.

One of the leading national organizations advocating for "school choice" says this about accountability:

"The Alliance for School Choice and our affiliate, the American Federation for Children, support strong, commonsense accountability provisions for private school choice programs to ensure the highest level of program quality and sustainability. To achieve this goal, we support public policies that allow for significant transparency to parents, policymakers, taxpayers, and independent evaluators in order to show the effectiveness of these programs. Responsible accountability standards demonstrate both a serious commitment to transparency while ensuring that participating schools maintain their autonomy.

.................

"We believe the school choice movement should encourage states to create new legislation and improve existing legislation so that there is significant transparency to all parties to show the effectiveness of these programs and the schools that participate in them. We also believe that academic information, including both snapshots of academic achievement and some measure of student gains, should be provided to parents and the public, both for voucher programs and tax credit scholarship programs."

New Hampshire school choice advocates say that accountability is built into choice - parents can move their child at any time.  The is a response that works in a political debate but it is not reason not to do the kind of testing that both the taxpayer and the parent would find useful in evaluating the school.  The actual reason is rejection of government involvement.

Possibly Unconstitutional Funding of Religious Schools
The New Hampshire constitution prohibits the use of public funds to support religious institutions.  However, religious schools are included in this legislation as eligable schools. This guarantees a challenge to the law on a constitutional basis.  In the mean time, the legislative leadership has proposed a constitutional amendment (CACR 8) to allow funding of religious schools.  Here is what the Concord Monitor thought about that.

Fiscal Priorities
In the last session, the Legislature reduced the cirrculum required to achieve adequacy, reduced the adequacy calculation, dramatically cut funding to UNH and the community colleges and reduced revenue in many ways, including reducing the cigarette tax.  However, the legislative leadership now proposes to use many millions of public dollars to fund "school choice" for parents who could send their child to private school without the voucher.

The Cost
This is a large enough topic that it deserves its own page, which is here, and right below this page in the menu at the left.
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Bill Duncan,
Dec 13, 2011, 2:49 PM