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Public schools: vs. public education

One of the reasons New Hampshire has to continue debating school choice year after year is that self-proclaimed supporters of public education do not support public education. They support public schools.

Last year the Legislature passed a law to give businesses a tax credit for a portion of the money they donate to new educational scholarship programs. The scholarships must be offered to families with incomes lower than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Students use the money to help pay for tuition at private schools.

Democrats opposed the tax credit last year and are pushing to abolish it this year. House Education Committee Chairman Mary Stuart Gile told this newspaper last week, "My primary concern about education in New Hampshire is to support public education, and this program would divert business profits taxes and business enterprise taxes that go to the general fund and used to support public education."

Nothing in that statement is true.

The scholarships do not divert money from public education. They are public education. Through them, the public partially funds a child's education at a state-approved private school. To claim that the scholarships hurt public education, Gile and other opponents pretend that the money does not finance a state-approved education.

Nor do the scholarships drain funding from government schools. The scholarships are capped by law at an average of $2,500 per pupil. The tax credit covers most, but not all, of that cost. The average per-pupil expenditure at New Hampshire public schools was $13,413 last year, with slightly more than 35 percent, or $4,700, covered by the state.

The difference between the tax credit and what the state otherwise would pay for that student's education remains with the state and can be used to enhance the funding of government schools.

That is not defunding the public schools. It is buying a good education at a state-accredited school at a fraction of the cost of providing it through a government school. Opposition to this beneficial arrangement is driven by legislators whose loyalty is to government schools and their employees, not to parents, students or taxpayers.

Eric Church
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