Groups issue competing analyses of SB 193 | New Hampshire
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Groups issue competing analyses of SB 193

By DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader

December 10. 2017 1:17AM
Opponents of SB 193, left, and supporters of the bill, right, as the House Education Committee voted on what opponents called a "school voucher" bill on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)



CONCORD - A state Senate bill that would give parents state aid to send their children to private schools would disproportionately impact cities and property-poor school districts in the state, according to an analysis released last week by the public school advocacy group Reaching Higher New Hampshire.

The Josiah Bartlett Center, a free-market think tank, disputed that analysis in a point-by-point rebuttal released the same day.

SB 193 would authorize "Education Freedom Savings Accounts" for parents who work with an approved scholarship organization. Families would receive 95 percent of the per-pupil state grant of $3,636, to be used for tuition, transportation or other costs at a school of the family's choice, including religious schools, or to pay for home-schooling supplies.

"Education Savings Accounts will not defund traditional public schools," said Josiah Bartlett Center interim President Andrew Cline, who also serves as chairman of the state Board of Education.

"Even using opponents' most dire prediction, in which 5 percent of New Hampshire students take advantage of ESAs to pursue educational opportunities outside of their assigned district, districts hold on to more than 98 percent of their funding," he said.

Reaching Higher estimates that more than 70 percent of students eligible for the state grants would come from communities at the middle or low end of property values, because eligibility for the program is based in part on income.

"Such communities are the most vulnerable to fluctuations in enrollment and state aid. The concentration of eligible students in such communities underscores the challenges SB 193 could pose in terms of adequately funding all students' educations," according to Reaching Higher's Dan Vallone.

Reaching Higher published similar reports in October and November, suggesting that enrollment declines of between 1 percent and 5 percent would cause school districts to lay off teachers or raise taxes.

The organization estimated that school districts would lose $5.8 million in state funding if 3 percent of students qualify during the first year of the program.

Cline pointed out that those studies used only the state per-pupil base adequacy education grant of $3,636, and did not include so-called "differentiated aid," such as the additional funding districts receive for students who have Individual Education Programs or who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

The Josiah Bartlett analysis used the average of all state aid, including differentiated aid, to provide a more accurate estimate of the financial impact on local school districts, according to Cline.

"Using an average of all state aid, not just the per-pupil adequate education grant, our analysis finds that on average school districts in New Hampshire would keep 99.7 percent of their operating budgets if 1 percent of students leave and 98.7 percent if 5 percent of students leave," he said.

Cline said another problem with the Reaching Higher analysis is that it uses raw numbers, which look big but can be misleading.

"People can become alarmed if they hear that their school district could lose tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. It can sound frightening, which is why so many political activists like to use raw numbers instead of percentages," he said. "Whatever legislators decide on SB 193, they need to have the full picture, not a small portion selected to produce the maximum emotional impact."

SB 193 is expected to be one of the most hotly contested bills in the upcoming session, as evidenced by the flood of data from proponents and opponents of the bill in recent months, designed to inform lawmakers and influence public opinion.

The competing analyses released last week on the impact the law might have on public schools came one month after the Josiah Bartlett Center published a report entitled, "Debunking the Top Five Myths about Senate Bill 193, Education Savings Accounts," which was published in response to Reaching Higher reports issued around the same time.

Similarly conflicting reports have been issued on the constitutionality of the measure.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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