AFT-NH testimony on HB 464 and HB 367
From Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH
Thank you, Chair Ward and Members of the Senate 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, higher education faculty and town and municipal employees across New Hampshire. My members work with nearly 30,000 of the 165,000 public school students in New Hampshire in one way or another as well as working with thousands of public university students.
I am writing in opposition to HB 464 and HB 367, both of which would make many more students eligible for a state education voucher each equivalent to what the State of New Hampshire pays the local public school district for the education of a single student. As we know, and the New Hampshire courts have repeatedly agreed, our state has a constitutional duty to provide the opportunity for an adequate – even robust - public education to the children of every city, town and school district in the Granite State. It has yet to live up to that duty, as evidenced by ongoing court proceedings as recent as last week. By competing for the limited tax dollars available to the state, HB 464 and HB 367 make it even more difficult for NH to fulfill its obligation to the 165,000 students and their families who rely on neighborhood public schools to get their constitutionally
guaranteed public education. These bills will drain desperately needed funding from the neighborhood public schools that most New Hampshire children attend and divert that money to a voucher approach that is a proven failure!
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. We also should not waste children’s and family’s time and hopes on flawed and failed educational experiments. 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 scheme is this: Do vouchers actually work? 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 on vouchers’ track record, from more than a dozen research-based studies, evaluations, and reports of existing voucher programs throughout the country conducted over the last 20 years. This evidence shows, 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 only 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 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.
So, we’re talking about doing harm to students’ educational achievement, and perhaps lasting harm. That is not something that this legislature should be getting behind.
This research should be extremely sobering for anyone considering expanding voucher programs in New Hampshire. We can and must do better for our kids. We shouldn’t be doubling down on a failed strategy. And the fact of the matter is, while it may make a great slogan, it has a dismal track record, and it is clear that voucher expansion is 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 released a nationwide survey of parents and voters in January 2023 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.
Now add to all this data the fact that both proposals currently before you manage to keep all the drawbacks of the current voucher scheme – just bigger. Under these proposals, the student receiving a voucher does not have to currently be in public school. There is no required independent measure of academic success and no independent financial oversight.
Under these proposals, voucher money can be spent on private school tuition – including religious schools that are allowed to exclude children. And it can be spent on a broad range of expenses, from school supplies, dance classes, karate lessons, robotics teams to travel soccer . While these things may be useful and even enriching, most Granite State families dig into their own pockets to provide them for their children, they don’t expect taxpayers to do it. These bills also create a new bureaucracy with costs attached: The scholarship organization that runs the program gets 10% of every dollar spent.
At a time when the NH Senate has decided it is too extravagant to feed hungry public school children whose families make up to 300% of the poverty level even one nutritious meal a day so they can focus on learning at school, we certainly cannot afford to spend another dime expanding vouchers in any way!
If legislators want to do right by our students, you should be 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 will deprive most New Hampshire students of resources they’ve never needed more.
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 very few parents and voters want—a choice that, far from helping children, has been shown in many cases to hurt their educational success.
President, AFT-New Hampshire