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Sununu takes strong stand on school choice bill

State House Bureau

November 08. 2017 1:03AM
Gov. Chris Sununu, surrounded by students who are either attending private schools or want to, urges lawmakers to pass SB 193, while House Education Committee Chair Rick Ladd cheers him in the background. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

CONCORD — A Senate-passed bill that would give parents state funding to send their children to private schools heads for a key committee vote with the enthusiastic support of Gov. Chris Sununu, who on Tuesday urged the House Education Committee to endorse SB193, “establishing Education Freedom Savings Accounts for students.” (See related editorial here and column here.)

The accounts authorized under the bill would enable parents who work with an approved scholarship organization to receive 95 percent of the per-pupil state grant to be used for tuition or other costs at a school of the family’s choice, or to pay for home-schooling.

The bill is expected to clear the 19-member House Education Committee today, and will go to the full House for a vote when lawmakers reconvene in January.

Surrounded by parents and students who support the school-choice initiative, Sununu pressured lawmakers to pass the bill.

“This is pushing the boundaries and allowing New Hampshire to be a gold standard for the rest of the country to follow,” he said. “It is my hope that the House Education Committee will report SB193 out of committee favorably and that the House of Representatives will get the bill to my desk as soon as possible.”

A late amendment filed at Sununu’s request would restrict eligibility for the scholarships to households with family income at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level, although that barrier could be overcome by other criteria, such as students with “individual education plans.”

“The majority of Granite Staters know from experience that New Hampshire public schools offer outstanding opportunity. There’s no doubt about that. This is not some type of dispersion on public schools,” he said. “I’m the first governor in 25 years to come up through the public schools of New Hampshire. Obviously they worked pretty well for me, but what I do know is they don’t work for everyone.”

House Education Committee Chair Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, has ushered the bill through a series of amendments in committee

“We can ill afford to let this moment escape,” he said. “After many months of working toward this end, I believe we have a bill that is the right fit for our small state. I hope we can make this thing work. Our state and the students behind me need it.”

Lobbying over the legislation has intensified since a nine-member subcommittee appointed to study it voted 6-3 in late October to recommend the bill ought to pass as amended.

The free-market Josiah Bartlett Center released a report on Tuesday with the title “Debunking the Top Five Myths about SB 193,” claiming the program will not drain money from public education or produce a mass exodus from the public school system.

The public education advocacy group Reaching Higher NH released its own analysis on Monday, predicting that property poor communities, already struggling to fund education, would be hit hardest by the bill.

The group released a separate analysis last week suggesting that public schools collectively could lose anywhere from $6.3 million to $32 million depending on how many families decide to take advantage of the program.

With Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and the full-throated support of a Republican governor, Ladd sounded optimistic the bill will become law.

“We’ll see after the vote tomorrow,” he said.

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