Valley News: SB 193 is “poor public policy and fully deserves rejection”

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The Valley News ran this editorial on the impact of the statewide voucher bill, SB 193:

It may be an overstatement to claim there is a war against public schools in New Hampshire, but there certainly is a guerrilla action. A proposal to divert some state aid to public education to private schools, charter schools and home schoolers has been passed by the state Senate and is now before the House, where, in the time-honored traditions of the Granite State, anything can happen. We hope lawmakers will see beyond politics to comprehend the risks — which ultimately fall on New Hampshire’s schoolchildren.

SB 193, approved by the state Senate last month in a straight party-line vote — Republicans for, Democrats against — would provide a modest subsidy to parents who want to take their children out of public schools. The mechanism: Parents would create an “education freedom savings account,’’ into which the state would pay up to 90 percent of what it now allocates to public school districts in per-pupil “adequacy aid.” The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. John Reagan of Deerfield, estimated the subsidy at about $4,400 per student. The arguments for the bill go something like this: parents know what’s best for their children; public schools can’t meet the needs of all; more competition in education would benefit everyone; and, in the most simplistic terms, choice and freedom are good. Those who intimately know how public schools actually operate lined up to oppose the bill. The New Hampshire School Boards Association, the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, the New Hampshire Association of School Principals, teachers unions and others called for it to be voted down. They say it lacks accountability standards and would particularly hurt poorer school districts. Carey Callaghan, chairman of the Dresden School Board, which is not among those districts, wrote recently that it would “cannibalize the budgets of districts with lesser resources and erode communities and democratic purposes across the state.” Indeed, public schools often are the heart of communities, and public education helps heat the American melting pot.

Remarkably, given constitutional principles regarding the separation of church and state, the bill would allow money to flow to religious schools. Valley News staff writer Rob Wolfe wrote that Associate Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards did not take a position on the bill at a recent House hearing, but she pointed out possible constitutional pitfalls. We wonder why the state would even considering stepping into that deep pit.

During his testimony, Sen. Reagan tellingly claimed that New Hampshire’s public schools “have substantially failed to produce what they’re charging for.’’ He added, “We don’t have an explanation for where that money goes.” Brian Cochrane, superintendent in Barnstead, objected. “We’re accountable for every penny … I’m baffled by that statement.” We can’t speak for the basis of Reagan’s thinking, but we believe that much of the disdain for public schools is grounded in ignorance of how they function, their successes, failures and challenges. Teachers, administrators and school board members know in full detail “where the money goes.” Local voters give school budgets their thumbs up or thumbs down. What could be more accountable?

SB 193 would bleed money away from public schools, and we can only guess if that would produce a minor cut or a serious wound. In any case, it would hurt many for the purported benefit of relatively few, which is poor public policy and fully deserves rejection.

Read the full article here.