AFT-NH Testimony on HB440
From Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH
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 am writing today in opposition to HB440, relative to the uses of education trust fund.
The Education Trust Fund was set up to specifically fund public education, public schools, and the public school districts of New Hampshire. It was created to distribute adequate education aid to the public school districts as a part of the NH Legislature’s response to previous NH Supreme Court rulings on the inadequacy of state education funding for public schools. Those rulings established that NH students absolutely have a constitutional right to a public education and that the state has an obligation to fund it. This is not just my opinion but an obligation that is outlined in the language of the New Hampshire Constitution and reaffirmed by multiple court rulings.
Already, New Hampshire finds itself last, or near last in state funding to its public schools, leaving our local property taxpayers to pick up the tab. Due to disparities in per capita property values, some districts can do this with little struggle, and for others it causes great hardship for the local property taxpayers. This also means that students receive widely disparate offerings for that constitutionally guaranteed state obligation of a public education depending on the district in which they live. Diverting the revenue in the Education Trust Fund to fund other programs, such as the wildly overbudget voucher program and the scholarship tax credit that until now had been funded through write-offs of Business Profits Tax, makes us question this Legislature’s commitment the public schools and to local property taxpayers. It may also make the courts question that commitment.
The voucher program, adopted by being forced into the budget, has operated wildly over its estimated costs for its 18 months of existence. Approximately 3/4ths of the students participating in the voucher program were NOT receiving funds through the Education Trust Fund prior to the adoption of this program because they were not attending public schools. Let me be absolutely clear, draining the Education Trust Fund to pay for programs other than public schools and public school districts puts the vast majority of Granite State students and their families who chose their neighborhood public school at risk of losing their choice of schools.
As referenced above the purpose of the Education Trust Fund is to support public school students, public schools, and public school districts. This obligation to provide and fund public education is enshrined in the state constitution. Changing this statute does not take away any of that obligation, but it makes it a lot harder to do.
In poll after poll, including one released by AFT just this month, we see that families prefer the legislature to work on strengthening our neighborhood public schools. In fact, 80% of families want to see policy makers focus on strengthening public schools with more resources so students can thrive compared to 20% who think policy makers should focus on school choice.
For these reasons, I urge you to find HB440, Inexpedient to Legislate. Thank you!