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AFT-NH testimony on HB 464 and HB 367 from Debrah Howes, AFT-NH President

 AFT-NH testimony on HB 464 and HB 367 from Debrah Howes, AFT-NH President

   Thank you, Chairman Ladd and Members of the House Education Committee, for reading my testimony.

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. I would ordinarily present testimony on these bills in person, but due to a prior work travel commitment, I cannot.

Michael O’Brien of Preti Strategies who works on behalf of AFT-NH at the State House will present for me.  

I am writing in opposition to HB 464 and HB 367, both of which would make more students eligible for the state of New Hampshire’s school voucher program.

   I hope we can all agree that educators, lawmakers, parents and other New Hampshire citizens all want our kids to have access to a        high-quality, accountable education so that they can thrive and excel. I also would hope that all of us agree that we should not be wasting state funds, which are taxpayer funds—and children’s time—on flawed and failed educational programs.

Expanding the state’s voucher program would be extremely costly—both financially and for our kids’ futures.

The main question every lawmaker should have to answer before throwing any more money at the state voucher program is this: Do vouchers improve student outcomes? Because in the end, that’s what matters most, for the students AND for the state.

There is ample evidence, from more than dozen research-based studies, evaluations, and reports of existing voucher programs throughout the country conducted over the last 20 years that show, unequivocally, that vouchers do not improve student outcomes. Just a few examples to make my point:

  • In 2008, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago said the best research to date finds relatively small achievement gains for voucher students, most of which are not statistically different from zero.
  • A 2016 study of the Ohio private school program which is targeted to students from low-performing schools or who are economically disadvantaged conducted by one of the foremost conservative think tanks—the Thomas Fordham Institute and funded by the pro-voucher Walton Foundation—found voucher students have “fared worse 

academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools … and that such impacts also appear to persist over time.”

  • A 2018 longitudinal study of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program found that low- income students who switched from public to private school using a voucher in the 2011-2012 school year experienced worsening math achievement throughout their time using the vouchers, compared to students who remained in public school.
  • And a 2019 study on the Louisiana voucher program found that after four years, voucher students performed noticeably worse on state assessments than their public- school counterparts.
  • A 2017 evaluation of DC’s voucher program found that students in their first year with a voucher had worse achievement in math than students who applied for the program but did not receive a voucher.

A lot has been made about the academic performance of students following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on student outcomes. But a recent review of research on vouchers shows their impact on student achievement is comparable, or much worse than what studies show occurred due to pandemic disruptions in education. Michigan State University Professor of Education Josh Cowen also found that the impact of vouchers on student outcomes is comparable or worse than the impact of a natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, on student achievement in Louisiana in 2005. I have included a graphic he made for a presentation to the National Coalition for Public Education about his review of research on voucher programs after my testimony.

This research should be extremely sobering for anyone considering expanding voucher programs in New Hampshire. We can and must do better for our kids. And the fact of the matter is, while it may be the go-to magical pixie dust supported by some, it’s not what parents and voters want. In fact, when asked directly at the ballot box in state after state across the country, the public has opposed vouchers every single time.

The American Federation of Teachers just released a nationwide survey of parents and voters to examine their education priorities. By an overwhelming 80 percent to 20 percent margin, parents and voters said they want policymakers—like you—to focus on improving education in the public schools rather than expanding school choice.

  • Their top priorities for public schools include developing students’ fundamental skills in reading, math and science; ensuring all kids, regardless of background, have an opportunity to succeed; developing critical-thinking and reasoning skills; teaching practical life skills; and preparing students to succeed in college or careers.
  • They also said policymakers and schools should address staff shortages, reducing class size and improving literacy skills.

Parents and voters are telling us these are the things that will really make a difference in students’ lives.

I have included slides with polling data from the Hart poll after my testimony.

The state legislature would do right by our students by giving them what they really need and what parents and voters support. Our public schools need to be well-funded and well- resourced. They should be places where kids want to go, parents want to send their kids and where kids can thrive and be prepared for college, careers and life. Expanding the state voucher program is not doing right by our students.

I urge you to find both HB 367 and HB 464 Inexpedient to Legislate. Focus on improving the public schools that serve all our students rather than funding a choice few parents and voters want and whose benefit is open to question.

Deb Howes

President, AFT-New Hampshire

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