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.
Like the state voucher program, the local vocal program allows students who are already in private school or being homeschooled to obtain a local voucher costing local property taxpayers across the state hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars more than is currently budgeted. Unlike the state voucher scheme, this program has no income eligibility restrictions, which means a family struggling in Concord would also now be responsible for helping to pay the tuition of a millionaire who wants to send their kid to St. Paul’s. As I have stated above, to pay for these program cuts will have to be made from our local neighborhood schools or property taxes will have to be raised.
Just like with the state-level voucher program, there’s little independent academic accountability to make sure students are learning. In fact, what we have seen in study after study of voucher programs across the country is that they do not work and have a greater negative impact on student learning that is worse that the disruptions of school closures during the COVID epidemic or a natural disaster compared to those who stayed in their local neighborhood public schools.
Poll after poll has shown the families across New Hampshire want to see the legislature improve and invest in our local neighborhood public schools so all of our kids can succeed. Granite state families want quality, stability and predictability, which overall they get from their public schools. This program would have the opposite effect and could lead to barebones education instead of the robust education our students receive today.
For the 165,000 public school students who rely on their local neighborhood public schools and all the local property taxpayers in towns and cities across the Granite State, we urge the committee to vote Inexpedient to Legislate on HB 538.
President, AFT-New Hampshire