For most of our members who work in public schools you have made it to winter break. Hopefully whether your break was this week or is next, you find some time to relax and recharge. The legislature is also taking a break next week with most committees not meeting next week and the full House and Senate are taking a breather as well.
While the legislature is taking a break, it also means when it comes back activity will happen at a rapid pace. This week we have seen two dramatic voucher expansion bills. One bill that would eliminate the income requirement so anyone, no matter how much money they make, could take a voucher and have taxpayers subsidize private school tuition, gymnastics, music lessons, summer camp or any other “educational” expense. Another bill that would create a local voucher program which would require localities who opt in to pay out approximately $10,000 from local property taxes that fund the local neighborhood public schools for every person who takes a voucher. This could bankrupt many school districts and lead to barebones programs at your neighborhood public school and higher property taxes. When the legislature returns from the break, the House Education committee will vote on both of these bills.
My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers-NH.
AFT-NH represents 4,000 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees and higher education faculty across New Hampshire. My members work with approximately 29,000 of the 165,000 public school students in New Hampshire in one way or another as well as thousands of university students. We are residents and taxpayers in the Granite State. I am writing today in opposition to HB 538, relative to establishing a local education freedom account program.
HB 538 would create a local voucher program that could easily decimate our local neighborhood public schools and rapidly increase already burdensome property taxes across New Hampshire. The new program will further impoverish our neighborhood public schools, leaving our students with only a threadbare education. As school districts struggle to cover costs, we’ll see massive cuts: Music, art, student learning support from paraeducators, library, transportation, and sports would all be on the chopping block as local communities struggle to keep up with cutbacks necessitated by having to fund two systems of education. The NH Constitution places a duty on the state to provide and fund a public education for all Granite State children. This bill would oblige local taxpayers to pick up the tab for a second system of education based on families’ individual choices. Since there is only so much money you can wring out of local taxpayers, the creation of this second system of education would lead to cutbacks in the constitutionally required public education system.
My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers-NH. AFT-NH represents 4,000 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees and higher education faculty across New Hampshire. My members work with approximately 29,000 of the 165,000 public school students in New Hampshire in one way or another as well as thousands of university students. We are residents and taxpayers in the Granite State. As such, I can unreservedly say we oppose HB 331, which would eliminate any income threshold for a family to be eligible for a school voucher.
By removing the income threshold HB 331 would create additional liability on the state of New Hampshire to fund whatever educational choices a parent wants without any regard for the taxpayers’ ability to pay. The state has long recognized its duty to provide a public education, so much so that it is enshrined in our state’s constitution. The original voucher program put taxpayers on the hook for parents’ educational choices, other than the public schools, for families below a certain income level. There are legal arguments why the original program was incorrect and a bad idea. Eliminating any income threshold just increases the state’s liability does nothing to address the legal shakiness of the program.
Governor’s Budget This week the Governor gave his budget address. It contained some headlines that sounded wonderful, but as always, the details are important. The budget proposal includes more than $200 million in increased spending on education overall and changes the formula for how state education aid is distributed. Not all of that goes to your neighborhood public school, however. It also doubles the amount of money that goes to the voucher program but of course does not strengthen the accountability or oversight of the program. In fact, more than one-quarter of the new spending in Sununu’s budget will go to his expanded voucher program, which serves a few thousand students. The neighborhood public schools that serve 165,000 Granite State students will get only about half of that $200,000. The budget also included increased funding for the University system of New Hampshire, a welcome departure from years of declining state support. We still do not have full details, including the source of the surplus Gov. Sununu is relying on to pay for all of this, since the full text of the budget has not been released.
CONCORD, N.H.— Today, Governor Sununu delivered his budget address. During the budget address the governor announced more money to our neighborhood public schools while also increasing public money to the ballooning, unaccountable and unproven voucher program. AFT-NH President Deb Howes released the following statement:
“The money to our local neighborhood public schools is welcome and long overdue. Our public schools have long been some of the least funded in the country and local property taxpayers have been forced to pick up the tab. We are happy to see more state funds going to support the educational needs of our students in our local neighborhood schools by increasing the base adequacy aid and free and reduced aid per student.
However, the governor’s budget also included a dramatic increase of funding for the state’s voucher program. The funding for the program, which is already massively over-budget, should not come out of the education trust fund, which is constitutionally obligated to fund only our public schools.
Voucher expansion is right around the corner. We thought we would see a vote of the full House on voucher expansion on Tuesday, February 14th, but it was not placed on the House calendar. The full House will have to vote by the week of February 20th. We need your help to make sure our legislators understand the out-of-control voucher program cannot be expanded and that they should be making sure all students have a robust public education system. The two bills which would expand the current voucher program are HB 464 and HB 367.
In case you missed it, you can read the written testimony submitted by AFT-NH on these two bills at the following link AFT-NH President Deb Howes' Written Testimony In Opposition to HB 464 and HB 367.
Update on Action Needed We need you to start today by contacting your state representatives even though the vote won’t be this week. Once you take action, please share the action with family, friends, and allies.
You can click on the following link to find the contact information for your own state representative.