Take Action to Stop Expansion of School Vouchers in NH
Now is the time for action to stop school voucher expansion in NH. The State of New Hampshire has had 30 years since it lost the first Claremont lawsuit to fix the broken way we fund public education in the Granite State. The NH Supreme Court found that the funding system which relied overwhelmingly on revenue from local property taxpayers to provide a public education was unconstitutional because taxpayers in some towns got a much better education while paying much lower tax rates than those in other towns. Every two years the NH Legislature must decide how much of the state tax money it will give each public school district to provide an adequate public education. The funding formula passed by the NH House, while not perfect, at least provides the most financial support to schools in the cities and towns that need it the most.
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
School vouchers back up for consideration School vouchers are a failed policy. These programs take tax money away from public schools and give it to families to spend as they choose on private schools that can reject students as well as on educational supplies, online classes, technology, enrichment programs, tutors or whatever. School vouchers have been shown in numerous studies in states across the country to be damaging to student achievement, increase school segregation and drain much needed resources away from neighborhood public schools. In fact, the overall negative impact on student achievement has been measured as equal to or greater than Hurricane Katrina or the disruptions of the COVID epidemic! So why would the notoriously frugal Granite State be pursuing expanding a policy that shows such poor return on the use of our valuable tax dollars?
The NH Senate will be considering expanding eligibility for NH’s existing school voucher system. Next week on Tuesday, April 25th at 9:00am and 9:30am respectively, HB 367 and HB 464 will be heard by the Senate Education Committee. It has been a while since we have talked about these bills, so let’s recap. HB 367 increases the eligibility of the voucher program to 350% of the federal poverty rate up from the current 300%. HB 464 increases the eligibility for certain subgroups, including whole geographic areas, some of which could potentially encompass most of the state, by totally removing the income cap from the voucher program.
AFT-NH Testimony on SB 272
From Debrah Howes, President of AFT-NH
Thank you, Chair 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. 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 working with thousands of university students. I am writing today in opposition to SB 272, establishing the parental bill of rights.
I urge you in no uncertain terms to vote “no” on SB 272 the so-called “Parental Bill of Rights.” This bill has very little to do with actually helping students or parents. Instead, it would force schools to divert their limited resources from teaching and supporting kids, into spying, reporting on and in some cases, actually endangering, children who are just trying to be themselves and live their lives in peace. It will hurt vulnerable students and drive good teachers and staff away from New Hampshire schools. It’s pure “performance politics.”
A budget is a statement of what a society values. We know the Granite State has a poor track record in how it supports its public school students, and with your help we have been working hard to change that. We want to make sure that every public school student in New Hampshire has small class sizes, expert teachers, learning support from dedicated paraeducators and all the school support staff that help our children learn and thrive.
We need a state budget that:
helps towns and school districts with lower property tax bases by increasing the state education aid they get.
Public School Proud This week showed what happens when you stand by your values, stand with your allies and call on lawmakers to stand up for the people in your communities. When you fight for what’s important you win, and this week, we did - for our, public schools, communities, and local property taxpayers.
All About the Budget At the beginning of the week, it looked like the NH House would take a vote on a state budget that was bad for public education. The budget that came out of House Finance this past week had a funding formula for public schools that hurt our communities that needed the most help, drastically expanded the over budget, unaccountable school voucher program and combined the Education Trust Fund – the dedicated piggy bank to pay for public education - with the General Fund. It also prevented new Community College System employees from joining the NH Retirement System.
Thankfully, yesterday public education champions in the legislature fought to improve the budget and bring much needed changes. The funding formula was changed in the budget so that it helps all of our communities—especially those communities that need it the most. The voucher program was removed completely from the budget. The Community College employees will continue to be able to join the NH Retirement System. Unfortunately, the amendment to separate the Education Trust Fund from the General Fund again and protect it failed BUT the budget process is not over. There will be time for the Senate to make that change and we will need your voices to make sure that happens.
We made it into April, which in New Hampshire means 3 things: mud season is in full swing, the Red Sox are playing baseball and every other year the wrangling over the state budget kicks into high gear. Next week the NH House will vote on the budget of the next two years. While this budget does not contain many of the non-budget related policy items we saw two years ago, it still fails the needs of most Granite Staters in many areas. One key area is public education. This budget begins to fully bring Frank Edelblut’s vision of education as a commodity rather than a public good for the community to life. It makes major cuts to public education, puts the current school voucher program on steroids, and changes the public education funding formula to hurt towns that need help the most. These cuts to public education are combined with tax cuts for ultra-millionaires at our expense, as local property taxpayers are left to pick up even more of the burden when the state provides almost no aid to property-poor towns.
We scored a major victory this week in keeping our public schools safe and welcoming places for ALL of our students and preventing teachers and school staff from being punished for respecting their students’ privacy. That is the good news. The bad news is that we will have to fight the same fight again next week as a very similar bill crosses over from the NH Senate.
Recap The full House was in session two days this week up against a major deadline and they had almost 100 bills to get through. These bills included HB 10, the House version of the so-called parental bill of rights, HB 331, a
This was a mixed week for public education. Let’s start with the good news.
Town election day was March 14th for most SB 2 towns and school districts across the state. Of course, an epic nor’easter that dropped 8 to 38 inches of heavy, wet snow and knocked out power to thousands altered those plans for many. Luckily, a recent state law allows voters to vote absentee the day before Town Meeting Day if a winter storm warning has been declared, so they don’t have to endanger themselves to get to the polls. In the interest of public safety, seventy towns postponed their elections for two weeks and rescheduled for March 28th. For those who persevered and held voting, the results showed that even in a raging snowstorm, Granite State voters showed up to support public school students, teachers, and school support staff and their local, neighborhood public schools.
House Action Thursday’s House session dealt a blow to supporters of public education as well as property taxpayers across the state. There is no way to sugarcoat this. Despite our best efforts, anti-public education politicians voted to expand the use of unaccountable school vouchers, further draining money from the Education Trust Fund which funds our neighborhood public schools. This means your local property taxes will go up or your neighborhood public school will have to cut things like arts, sports, and other programs. In fact, one of the voucher expansion bills that passed could result in a family struggling to keep up with their bills now being responsible for funding a voucher for a millionaire who wants to send their kids to an elite private or parochial school. Many families currently in the voucher program are using their vouchers to pay for art, music, and sports, some of the very programs neighborhood public schools will have to cut because of the underfunding from the state. The journey of these bills is not yet over. They will either be put into the budget or sent over to the Senate.