On March 29, the Republican-dominated House passed
HB 1607, the school voucher bill, by a 173 to 127 margin. This bill attempts to
circumvent the New Hampshire Constitution's prohibition against giving public
tax money to support religious schools.
According to the terms of this bill, businesses would be allowed make voluntary contributions to scholarship organizations. Those organizations would, in turn, give $2500 to public school students to help them afford the cost of private schools when transferring from the former to the latter. Money would also be made available to public school students who want to be home schooled, and to students already enrolled in private schools. In turn, the state would give the donor businesses an 85 percent rebate as credits on either their business profit taxes or their business enterprise taxes.
It's like a double play in baseball where the ball is money. The state flips the ball (money in the form of tax credits) to the donor businesses which, in turn, throw money to the students in private schools. Who gives up the money to begin with? The state. Who ends up with the money? Students in private schools. In short, this voucher program costs the state tax money.
How much tax money? The initial cost would be $2.6 million for the first three years, the amount increasing each year. According to Department of Education calculations, after 10 years, if the voucher plan grew at a rate provided for in HB 1607, it could cost the state of New Hampshire $126 million.
Would the state save money when a public school student left for a private school because there is one fewer public school student to educate? To an extent, but not completely. For each student who leaves public school for private school, the public school would be docked $4100 by the state. That would offset the business tax credit, and thus the cost of the program in the state budget. However, if the student were already enrolled in a private school, he or she would get the $2500 voucher, but the state would not receive a $4100 rebate.
Would the quality of public school education be affected by this bill? Remember, each time a student leaves for a private school, the public school rebates $4100 to the state. Democratic governor John Lynch argues that public school education would be adversely affected by the loss of students. Speaking to the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, Lynch said that public schools have fixed costs, such as utilities, telephone, custodial services, insurance, and bond obligations, that don't decline when enrollment is reduced.
"The economic argument against that - forget the policy argument - is that public education is basically fixed cost. So, if you take a kid out of school, you give the kid a voucher, and you take money away from the school district itself. Just because you're removing that one child, it's not going to lower the fixed cost of the school, school district (or) public education. So I think it has the potential consequence of eroding the quality of education that we offer in our school system."
Will we know whether or not our public tax money enhances the education of students transferring to private schools? No. There is no meaningful, objective measure of accountability included in HB 1607. There is a "parental satisfaction survey." If someone gave you $2500, wouldn't you be satisfied? That is not a valid measure of accountability.
In sum, HB 1607, the school voucher bill, is simply bad legislation. Democratic governor John Lynch will veto it. When he does, both the Republican-dominated State House and State Senate will attempt to override Lynch's veto by producing at least a two-thirds majority in favor of HB 1607. The initial vote of 173 for HB 1607 and 127 against described in this column acts as a test vote for an override attempt in the State House. It doesn't bode well for a successful override as the margin of victory, for HB 1607 falls far short of the needed two-thirds majority. Therefore, HB 1607 can be stopped, and richly deserves to be stopped, by a veto.
The votes of state representatives representing Hampton and North Hampton on the initial vote for HB 1607 are shown below. Yes is a vote for school vouchers. No is a vote against. NV stands for not voting on this bill. D stands for Democrat. R is for Republican.
Hampton: Chris Nevins (R) - yes. Fred Rice (R) - yes. Ken Sheffert (R) - yes. Kevin Sullivan (R) - NV. James Waddell (R) - NV.
North Hampton/Exeter/Stratham: Patrick Abrami (R) - no. Timothy Copeland (R) - no. Patty Lovejoy (D) - no. Michele Peckham (R) - NV. Marshall Quandt (R) - NV. Matthew Quandt (R) - NV. Donna Schlachman (D) - no. Joanne Ward (R) - no.