School vouchers will cost us more

Rep. David Cote

OpEd by New Hampshire’s House Democratic Leader, David E. Cote, as published in the Manchester Union Leader on August 5, 2022.

Mr. Cote has been a member of the General Court since 1982. He represents Hillsborough District 31 (Nashua Ward 4).

Mr. Cote serves as the ranking member of the Committee on Election Law.

School vouchers are rapidly raising taxes to subsidize private educatio

REPUBLICANS don’t want you to know this, but the school voucher program they enacted last year is a ticking time bomb that, unless fixed, will only be defused with massive tax hikes on Granite Staters.

Led by Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, those pushing the voucher program claim that it actually saves the state money. Because New Hampshire spends about $20,000 per student in public school, they explain, when a voucher is elected instead, $5,000 “follows the student” to private education, and the remaining $15,000 not spent on public education is taxpayer savings.

But in most situations, that’s not how it works. Unlike other states with voucher programs, New Hampshire’s is open to those already in private education who don’t currently receive state funding. While the voucher program was touted as an option for those struggling in public school, it was written to include thousands of households already in private education, who currently cost taxpayers nothing.

To cover up the impending cost, the Department of Education conducted a program analysis that relied on a series of ridiculous assumptions. Specifically, DOE claimed that only 15% of voucher applications would come from those already in private school, and that only four households in private school would apply in the first year.

That bears repeating. Despite suddenly offering free money to thousands of people to subsidize expenses they were already paying for themselves, DOE claimed that only four would apply in the first year. The department projected that it would take a full decade, until 2031, for 600 people already in private education to apply for the free money.

To little surprise, those already in private education flocked to the program, accounting for the vast majority (90%) of vouchers awarded so far. Instead of four private school students receiving vouchers in the first year, the state awarded 1,600.

The lowball estimates allowed Republican budget writers to earmark just $129,000 for the program’s first year, and they included no provision to cap the program if it ran over budget. Because so many people in private school applied for vouchers, the program ran 6,000% over budget in its first year, costing taxpayers an extra $8 million.

Instead of reallocating existing funds to expand school choice, the voucher program is raising taxes to subsidize expenses people were already paying for. And it’s likely to get worse. The program is only a year old and private schools are encouraging their existing students to sign up. Every time one does, the tax burden goes up $5,000.

This year, after seeing the damage already being done, House Democrats tried to protect taxpayers with legislation holding the program to budgeted amounts. Republicans blocked the effort, with one of their leaders lamenting that “people are clearly scared of the success of the program as measured by the number of students taking EFA’s.”

Without changes to the program’s eligibility, Granite Staters have good reason to be scared. A program touted as a cost-saving option for struggling students has turned into a growing taxpayer obligation with no end in sight. People struggling with inflation and stagnant wages are suddenly being required to subsidize expenses people were already paying for themselves, all under the guise of “freedom.”

Republicans have discussed removing the voucher program’s income cap if they are reelected this fall, a concept they first proposed last year. Doing so would raise everyone’s taxes even further to help millionaires send their kids to boarding school.

Providing vouchers to all 20,000 students already in private education would raise taxes on Granite Staters $100 million annually. A billion dollars in tax increases over the next decade without a single penny going to help our public schools.

When you hear Republicans promote their “school choice” and “education freedom” program, remember what it is. A new, rapidly growing tax on Granite Staters to subsidize people already paying for private education.

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