The New Hampshire Senate voted this week to table HB370, the bill to repeal the current voucher scheme. In doing so Senators Stiles and Odel flip-flopped on their previous positions and voted to kill a bill that had overwhelming support from the House and the Governor. Last year, Senators Stiles and Odel voted against starting the voucher scheme in New Hampshire; this year they allowed it.
Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, made it crystal clear that he doesn’t expect the bill to come off the table which means it will die there when the session ends.
No Accountability Leads to Abuses
Because the current voucher law has no accountability for the teachers, schools, curriculum and financial groups receiving public tax money, abuses have already surfaced. The Alliance for the Separation for School and State, doing business in New Hampshire as the Network for Educational Opportunity (NEO), has already crossed the ethical line in their fundraising efforts. In return for the active participation of private and religious schools in hosting fundraisers to convince business-owners to divert tax dollars owed the state to the private voucher program, NEO has offered to kickback to the schools part of the administration fee money NEO would receive from the state.
The Nashua Telegraph reported exclusively on Friday that NEO had made this offer to the Roman Catholic Church in New Hampshire and that the Church declined to participate in the scheme. NEO officials are up against a June 15 deadline to generate all the tax credits that could be turned into vouchers for the next school year.
It Just Doesn’t Add Up
The average voucher is $2,500 per child. NEO staff members have set a target to try and raise $500,000 in scholarships, though they’ve only raised about 30 percent of that as of now. Even if NEO manages to have $500,000 of tax dollars diverted from being collected by the state, they could offer 200 vouchers next year. NEO reports they already have 700 applicants. So who has the better chance of getting a voucher? How about schools that kicked in the most in tax credit donations to NEO?
The Senate GOP leadership is hiding behind the “firm belief” that providing vouchers for income-eligible families to have options other than their child’s assigned public school is a noble act. If NEO is able to award 200 vouchers, that means 200 children currently “trapped in public school” will leave the system, since that is the population Senate Republicans are claiming to protect under the banner of their cause.
To date, only 15 of the applicants have been identified as current public school students, meaning the vast majority of these vouchers will be given to students already in private school to help them continue to pay for private school. So the Republican leadership’s noble cause isn’t school choice for the poor, its a rebate for the wealthy students already in private school.
The current system of public education provides local control and fiscal transparency to the taxpayers in New Hampshire. Instead, 13 Republican Senators decided that kickbacks and backroom deals were a better way of spending tax dollars and educating our children. And in the process, they took money from public schools whose very mission is to serve all citizens, and use it to subsidize students already in private school.
2014 is Just Around the Corner
The vote to table HB370 sent a loud and clear message from Senate Republicans. We need to send just as clear a message to them in 2014. Public schools provide access to the American Dream through education, are open to anyone regardless of income, are free at the point of delivery, and have for more than 150 years been the foundation that lifted this nation to greatness. The 13 senators who voted to systematically de-fund public education, open our tax system to abuse, and turn their backs on thousands of public educators and students want you to believe that they did it for the good of those less fortunate, when all they are really accomplishing is the transfer of millions of tax dollars to the owners of private schools and “scholarship companies” across the state.
They have one more chance to get it right. The House budget provides for the repeal of the voucher scheme.