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Public school stakeholders urge lawmakers to reject school choice bill

By Dave Solomon
State House Bureau

March 29. 2018 8:37PM
Carl Ladd, executive director of the N.H. School Administrators Association, speaks Thursday. The organization was one of several groups in the public education system that urged lawmakers to reject SB 193 on Thursday. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)



CONCORD — April is going to be crunch time for a school choice initiative that began in January 2017, and both sides are bracing for the final lap.

Opponents of SB 193 took center stage at the State House on Thursday as representatives from several stakeholder groups in the public education system urged lawmakers to reject the bill.

Called the “school voucher bill” by critics and “freedom scholarships” by supporters, SB 193 would set up a system to give parents state education grants to send their children to private schools, under certain conditions.

The bill has undergone several changes since it passed the Senate last year and got bogged down in House committees. It’s now before the Finance Committee, which is not expected to take a final vote on the bill until sometime in mid- to late-April.

Carl Ladd, executive director of the N.H. School Administrators Association, introduced a long line of speakers who said the bill would reduce funding to schools that are already underfunded, and impose particular burdens on property-poor communities, while sending money to private schools that would not have to be accountable for educational outcomes or transparent in their use of taxpayer funds.

“New Hampshire's public education is considered one of the best in the country, by any measure,” said Ladd, “whether you look at SAT scores, graduation rates, college and career readiness, any of those pieces, you will see that New Hampshire is ranked either one or two for all of those measures. This bill is a solution in search of a problem, and it does not fit New Hampshire.”

Ladd was joined by the head of the state Association of Special Education Administrators, the statewide president of the National Education Association, the vice chair of the Londonderry School District, the executive director of the N.H. School Board Association and the state president of the Parent-Teacher Association.

Barrett M. Christina, executive director of the School Boards Association, said the state has failed to adequately fund public education, and will make the problem worse by channeling money to private schools.

“Rather than diverting scarce tax dollars away from our public school classrooms, we urge the legislature to support improvements in our public schools and meet current funding obligations and promises,” said Christina.

Several speakers raised concerns about the inability of the state to properly account for the use of public funds by private schools, or to intervene if those schools discriminate in admissions or programming.

Private schools will accept public funds but provide “no access to financial records, student achievement data and no say in how the school is run,” according to Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-NH, the largest statewide teachers union.

“The absence of public accountability for voucher funds has contributed to rampant fraud, waste and abuse in current voucher programs across the country,” she said.

Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, an avid supporter of SB 193, watched from the sidelines and later said the fears of opponents are unfounded.

“I heard some of the same arguments this morning that were made when the business tax credit scholarship program was being debated and none of those came true,” he said.

The state has a program in place that enables businesses to make a donation to a scholarship fund for private education, and take a credit on their business taxes.

The House has until April 26 to report the bill out of committee, and until May 3 to act on the bill.

Take a look at district-by-district New Hampshire test scores and per-pupil spending at unionleader.com/testscores.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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