NH legislators pushed through a reckless voucher scheme that is wildly over budget, attacks public schools, shifts public taxpayer dollars to private, religious & home schools, and raises property taxes. They interfered in curriculum, and tried to undermine our teachers. Public schools level the playing field and ensure that every child has a place where they can learn and bloom.
School is a place where childhood happens. Public schools are a place where children of different places and races learn from the past, make sense of the present and prepare for the future. Strong public schools help create responsible, prepared community members. They are tomorrow’s leaders after all! We need to train our students for the 21st-century economy.
But right now, public education in New Hampshire is under attack.
Recently NH legislators added legislation to the biennial budget to allow families to receive money from the local schools to be used to pay for children to attend private or religious schools, or to be home-schooled. This was signed into law by NH’s current governor.
This legislation will remove millions of property taxes from the tax base which will harm our public schools, which are already underfunded. It will almost certainly cause property taxes to rise and school budgets to tighten.
This governor also signed legislation that makes teachers afraid to teach basic history. Public school teachers are part of the community that helped raise us. While our trusted public school teachers have worked to safely deliver our children an accurate and honest education, NH legislators pushed through this reckless voucher scheme, interfered in the curriculum, and tried to undermine our teachers.
Public schools are funded with many shared resources that benefit all students in the class. Reducing the funding diminishes the experience for the whole group.
The League of Women Voters says, “Public schools welcome ALL children. They teach that everyone has equal rights. Our nation’s founders and others sought to establish public schools to ensure that each new generation understands, values and works to preserve our democratic republic. Children who attend public schools PRACTICE DEMOCRACY every day by being together, by learning together, and by resolving conflicts together. In order to survive, our nation must educate our children about their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.”
NH’s school voucher legislation shifts public funding away from our public schools, with little oversight of how or where those tax dollars are being spent, or of what is being taught. We must keep public dollars in our public schools, and out of the pockets of for-profit private vendors and religious schools. We must keep resources in our public schools, which are required to serve all students, and are also vital community hubs, as public schools often serve as the heart of a community.
We must protect the fundamental promise of quality public education for all students, regardless of race, religion, or disability. We must ensure that all students receive a diverse education. And we need to focus our limited tax dollars on the goal of having top-quality public schools so that each and every child has the opportunity to succeed, achieve, and live the American Dream.
What is the School Voucher Program costing NH tax payers?
In September it was announced that NH’s school voucher program had doubled its enrollment from its first year. As of that date, there were 3,025 enrolled in the program; last year there were 1,572 students. This program was designed to help children move to private and religious schools, or for families who were homeschooling their children. In reality, up to 85% of the funds went to kids who were already in those programs.
NH Department of Education predicted that the voucher program would cost $130,000 in the first year and $3.3 million in its second. Opponents warned that the cost of the program would be far higher than the $130,000 advertised. And they were right! The program has cost the state $14,700,000 since its launch. When the program was first debated, the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Assistant’s office estimated the state’s exposure could be as high as $70,000,000 if all the students in private or religious schools applied for grants.
In efforts to shut down public schools, the State spent 7,200,000 for learning “pods” where an adult “guide” who is not a certified teacher helps students work through online lessons. The state is also spending on online tutoring, and has spent almost $8,000,000 for online lessons.
Is the school voucher program legal?
Opponents to the voucher program ask how sending tax $$ to religious schools does not violate Article 6 of the Bill of Rights in the NH State Constitution: “But no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination.” We will soon find out what the Court says … another unnecessary expense to New Hampshire taxpayers.
Why was the school voucher bill included as part of the state budget?
Simple. Because it failed to get support from the Legislature as a stand-alone bill, it was inserted into the biennial budget.
Who is behind the program?
- NH’s Commissioner of Education, Frank Edelblut.
- The libertarian conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, sent out mailers and canvassed door to door to encourage people to sign up for the voucher program.
- Free State Project board member Jeremy Kauffman describes NH’s school voucher program as “a stepping stone towards reducing or eliminating state involvement in schools” and “the entire program is run by Free Staters.”
- NH Republicans. Legislators rammed the voucher program into the 2021 budget, because it could not get enough support as a stand-alone bill. Democrats introduced bills to stop taking funds away from our public schools, and prevent INCREASED property taxes. Both failed to pass.
- HB 1683-FN: This bill repeals the provisions of the education freedom account program and reverts the unused funds to be deposited to the education trust fund. It failed to pass. Vote: Inexpedient to Legislate (“Kill the Bill”): 189 Yeas, 166 Nays. 188 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted to protect the school voucher program. 162 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and 1 Independent voted to kill the school voucher program, protect public schools and protect our tax dollars.
- HB 1684-FN: This bill limits the amounts of funds appropriated from the education trust fund to the education freedom account program to budgeted sums. It failed to pass. Vote: Inexpedient to Legislate (“Kill the Bill”): 182 yeas, 171 nays. 180 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted to prevent the school vouchers at the budgeted amount. 166 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and 1 Independent voted to cap the bill at the amount that was budgeted so that the program wouldn’t cost NH taxpayers more than the funds that had been allocated.
- Governor Sununu refused to veto the 2021 budget, which contained the voucher bill, a ban on “device concepts,” and a strict ban on abortions, citing concerns about the government shutting down. He had the ability to signal to legislators to stop these three controversial issues. He threatened to veto them as stand-alone issues, but still signed them into law. It should be noted that he was willing to veto the 2019 budget, forcing the state to operate under a temporary spending plan until a compromise was signed into law three months later.
What about kids with special needs?
All kids living in the United States have the right to a free public education. The New Hampshire Supreme Court held that education is a fundamental right, and the State has “the duty to ensure that the public schools achieve their object and… provide an education to all its citizens and that it support all public schools.”
Private and religious schools can discriminate against pregnant students, LGBTQ students. Federal law requires that students in public schools with physical or mental disabilities must be provided with an education that is appropriate for them.
Once a child is pulled out of public school, the public school no longer has an obligation to make sure the child gets all the special education and related services the child needs. And neither does the private school. The only exception is when a public school district places a student in a private school because it cannot provide adequate services to meet federal requirements that the child receive a “free appropriate public education.”
Public schools measure each student’s success by the growth they make over time in mastering competencies: the skills and knowledge that they show they know and can use. That is the goal of education! Doling out the funding to “follow the student” and be used in unaccountable ways has not been shown to produce better results. In fact, in other states where this has been tried, the results have usually been lower test scores.
We need to make our public schools stronger, so that no child is left behind. There is make-up work to be done from the peak of the COVID pandemic, when kids got behind in school. But we must not stop at the pre-pandemic levels, we must go further. Any child needing additional help must get it. They will only get the help they need if we have a strong school system, with enough happy teachers and enough resources. Private or religious schools are not the answer. For many kids, homeschools are not the answer. We need to make our public schools stronger. The voucher system will only weaken the public school systems we currently have.
Our public schools are under attack!
Learn more! Below are some important articles about how the school voucher program, is not working, and puts our public school system at risk.
- AFT-NH on School Assessment Score
- NH Student Assessment Results Recovering Lost Ground: DOE Reports
- School vouchers are rapidly raising taxes to subsidize private education
- Disability rights advocates: Sununu mischaracterized special education rights in private schools
- Education Freedom Accounts double after one year; most recipients outside public school
- Education Freedom Accounts are Just the Beginning
- The Cost Of New Hampshire’s School Voucher Program Is Mushrooming
- Education Freedom Account Program Needs More Honesty
- State data show CARES Act spending by the state tilts toward online programs
- State’s Education Funding System Is a Mess
- Support our Schools and on Facebook
- National Center for Education Statistics
- Education Law Center (US)
- Education Law Center (N
This is part three of a 4-part series.
Part 1: EVERYTHING is on the line.
Part 2: Reproductive Freedom is on the line.
Part 3: Public Schools are on the line.
Part 4: The 3 E’s — Environment, Energy and the Economy — are on the line.