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Advocates: Education aid bill would drain money from public schools

State House Bureau

October 30. 2017 10:46PM

CONCORD — A Senate bill that would give parents state aid to send their children to private schools would drain millions of dollars from public schools, according to an analysis by an advocacy group for public education.

Depending on how many families take advantage of the new program, public schools collectively could lose anywhere from 111 to 555 teaching positions, according to data released Monday by Reaching Higher New Hampshire.

School choice supporters argue the model is based on unrealistic assumptions of how many families will take advantage of the Education Freedom Savings Accounts offered in SB 193 if it becomes law.

The accounts would enable parents who work with an approved scholarship organization to receive 95 percent of the per-pupil state grant, about $3,600, to be used for tuition or other costs at a school of the family’s choice, or to pay for home-schooling.

The measure has already received a positive 6-3 vote from a nine-member subcommittee of the House Education Committee, which is scheduled to vote on Nov. 8, and is likely to recommend the bill ought to pass to the full House.

It has already cleared the Senate and Gov. Chris Sununu has expressed his support for school choice initiatives like this one.

Opponents of the program worry that it will drain resources from public schools and redirect them to private schools, including religious private schools. The analysis released on Monday tries to put some numbers to that argument.

“We looked at all the school districts from across the state and modeled how much state aid the districts would lose if between 1 percent and 5 percent of the districts’ students selected a voucher,” said Dan Vallone, director of engagement at Reaching Higher N.H.

The organization used the state’s base adequacy aid for 2018 as the per pupil amount districts would lose when a student’s family chooses the private school option.

“This is a conservative figure,” said Vallone, “since the districts would also lose most differentiated aid, such as state aid provided for students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.”

The data can be viewed below:

If just 1 percent of the state’s 175,770 students in grades K-12 decide to take advantage of the new program and go to a private school, that’s a $6.3 million loss to public education statewide, rising to $32 million at the highest estimate of 5 percent.

Kate Baker, executive director of the N.H. Children’s Scholarship Fund, said her experience suggests that the number of students applying will be well below 1 percent. For the past four years, Baker has run a program designed to assist families with private school education through scholarships funded by private businesses, whose donations are encouraged by education tax credits against the Business Enterprise and Business Profits taxes.

While 1 percent of the statewide student population would be around 1,800 students, Baker said her program, now in its fifth year, has only 260 participants.

“They said that program was going to drain public education, too,” said Rick Ladd, chairman of the House Education Committee, who will preside over the Nov. 8 vote.

“I think it’s more scare tactics than anything else, and the facts reflect that,” he said. “Overall, people are satisfied with their local schools. It’s convenient; they know the teachers; they know the culture. But there are some who are going to leave for various reasons, whether it be discipline problems, bullying, special education or something else. But it is a very, very small minority.”

Vallone said the way education tax credits have operated is not a fair comparison with the options that will open up if SB 193 becomes law.

“There are family income restrictions, so the total eligible student population for the education tax credit is small, whereas in SB 193, there is no restriction,” according to Vallone.

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