O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
When the NH House reconvenes on January 3, one of the first bills they take up will be SB 193 – a school voucher bill. I could argue that the bill is bad because vouchers are a significant weapon in the extreme right’s assault on public schools, teachers, and knowledge in general. I could also point out that this bill undermines our NH Constitution, which explicitly states that no public money should go to religious schools. However, I think I will just stick to the cost. This bill will cost millions of tax dollars, expand the burden on taxpayers, and yield no return on our investment.
If this bill passes here is what we have to look forward to:
Under this bill the student’s state education adequacy grant will be taken from the school district and sent to the parents. The basic grant is $3,600 per student and about $5,000 if the child is eligible for free or reduced lunch. The money can be used to fund private or religious school tuition or cover the expenses of homeschooling. Most people understand that if two children leave a school the costs of running it stays the same. You still need to heat the building and have the same number of teachers, but now you have $7,200 – $10,000 less to pay for it.
In order to address the potential effects of these shortfalls, the NH House Education Committee added a stabilization grant to the bill. If the amount of money a school district loses exceeds ¼ of 1 percent of the district’s budget, then the school district would be compensated by the state for lost revenue. In Manchester’s case that means we, the taxpayers, would only need to make up the first $432,000 before the stabilization grant kicks in. Only 4-5 students from each school would need to apply for vouchers to reach this threshold. Once we reach that level, the state would provide a stabilization grant for five years. If you are wondering where the money to fund these stabilization grants is going to come from, look in the mirror. The money for this will likely come from the statewide property tax. For every voucher beyond the ¼ of 1 percent you and I get to pay twice – once to the parents and once to the school district.
The other really frightening thing about SB 193 is that the costs are potentially limitless. New Hampshire currently has a limited voucher program which is funded by voluntary contributions from businesses that receive a tax credit in exchange for their contributions. When the money runs out, so do the vouchers.
Under this bill anyone making less than $73,800 for a family of four, or $86,100 for a family of 5, would be eligible, and you don’t have to take a child out of public school to get it. If you have a kindergartner or first-grader you were planning to enroll in a private school and you meet the income requirements, you could apply for a voucher and receive it. The voucher is renewable every year, so you can see how five years down the road a significant number of students in private schools will be supported by public tax dollars without any corresponding decline in public school enrollment.
Also, we currently do not subsidize families who home school. Under SB 193 we will. A New Hampshire person who works full time at minimum wage ($7.25) makes $14,500 a year. A homeschooling family with three children that meets the eligibility requirement for free and reduced lunch will receive a $15,000 check from the state to cover homeschooling expenses. Mind you, these are the same people who want to impose work requirements for food stamps and Medicaid expansion because, “We need to get more people into the workforce.”
The bill does include some accountability for homeschooling. In 2012 our state legislature removed any accountability requirements for homeschooling. However, if you want that cash, you need to provide a curriculum and check in with a local principal, superintendent of schools or the New Hampshire Commissioner of Education to prove that your child is making progress. It is nice that we have finally found a job that Sununu-appointed Commissioner Frank Edelblut is qualified for, given that he homeschooled his own seven children.
When SB 193 came out of the NH Senate it had significant flaws that made it unlikely to pass, so it was referred to the House Education Committee. There is an old saying that two things you never want to see being made are laws and sausages. If most laws are sausages, then this one would better be described as a vile turducken. They took a turkey of a bill and stuffed it with one foul (fowl) amendment after another to try and make it palatable. I wouldn’t touch it with a stick and neither should any of our state legislators. This turducken of a bill is fiscally irresponsible and we should just throw it in the trash.
If you would like to share your own thoughts about this bill with your NH State Representatives, you can find their contact information here.
Agree to disagree? Got something to say? The Soapbox is waiting for you. Send submissions for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: The Soapbox.
Kathy Staub is a lifelong resident of Manchester, and works as Field Representative for Rights & Democracy, a progressive public advocacy group. She has been a public education advocate for more than 15 years and served two terms on the Manchester School Board.