Emotions run high at hearing on bill to use state per-pupil grants for private schoolsBy DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau
April 04. 2017 9:34PM
CONCORD — A Senate-passed bill that would give parents state funding to send their children to private schools, including religious schools, drew a capacity crowd as the House took up the measure on Tuesday.
The Education Freedom Savings Accounts authorized under SB 193 would enable parents who work with an approved scholarship organization to receive 90 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.
To accommodate the turnout, the House Education Committee public hearing on the bill had to be moved twice, with emotions running high on both sides.
Committee Chairman Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, had to tell opponents gathered at Representatives Hall to put down signs reading, “None of my tax dollars for vouchers.”
“This is a successful program in five other states,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield. “It is trying to resolve the problem of having the most expensive education system in the world, and not having the best prepared students in the world.”
Reagan and others in support of the measure said the competition for students would improve the performance of public schools.
Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, chairman of the House Finance Committee, presented several issues he said should be addressed as the bill moves to the House, including the question of religious schools.
“You need to decide if these funds can be used at religious schools or not,” he said. “The way the bill is written, the funds can be used anywhere, including religious schools.”
The House recently passed a school choice bill of its own in response to challenges facing the town of Croydon, which wanted to send some students to a nearby Montessori school but was denied by the state Department of Education. House Bill 557, now before the Senate, applies only to “nonsectarian private schools.”
Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards raised several questions about the proposal, including the provision that exempts from taxable income the per-pupil grant to home-schooling parents.
“Only the IRS can determine if this is going to be taxable income for individuals,” she said. “The Legislature can put in a statement of intent, but I hate to tell you the IRS is going to make that determination, not us.”
Douglas Ley of Dublin, current president of the American Federation of Teachers in New Hampshire, said the supporters of SB 193 “want public funding without public accountability.”
“The program envisioned here provides very little transparency on how the money is being spent, whether at private schools or through home schooling,” he said.
Kate Baker, executive director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, said parents are the best judge of whether their children are receiving an “adequate education,” and that should be sufficient to meet state law regarding adequacy.
Baker administers the program by which businesses receive tax credits for donations they make to the scholarship fund.
“I believe this will be in the courts no matter what you do,” she said. “When you create a program giving families the right to choose and the dollars go with that family, there will be challenges to that.”