Concord Monitor: Who wins with school vouchers? Not taxpayers

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The Concord Monitor Editorial Board featured a piece on SB 193, the bill that would create a universal voucher program in the state:

A month ago on this page, we urged the Senate to reject legislation that would create a universal school voucher program called “education freedom savings accounts.” But the state Senate approved Senate Bill 193 on a party-line vote, with all 14 Republicans voting in favor of the program. Our concerns about the bill, which is now before the House Education Committee, remain.

Under SB 193, parents would have the option of signing a contract with the state – through a scholarship organization – in which they would agree to provide an education for their child. Following notification of the commissioner of education, the Department of Education would then transfer public funds into an account that parents could access to pay for educational services. For each home-schooled child, the state would transfer $2,500 into the account. Approximately $3,400 – or 90 percent of the per-pupil state adequacy grant – would go into the account of a student who chooses to attend a private school.

On March 27, the Monitor published an op-ed by former state senator Mark Fernald, who explained just how bad this program could be for New Hampshire taxpayers.

“Take $63 million for the public schools and give it to people whose children do not go to public school,” Fernald wrote. “That, in a nutshell, is what Senate Bill 193 would do.”

Fernald arrived at $63 million by adding the $25 million that would go to the state’s 3,420 charter school students and 5,194 home-schooled students under SB 193 to the $38 million that would eventually be disbursed among the “freedom savings accounts” of an estimated 12,000 private school students.

“We all know what happens when money is drained out of public schools,” Fernald wrote. “Property taxes go way up.”

For example, Fernald points out that $43 million was shifted to property tax payers when lawmakers got rid of school building aid in 2009 and $80 million when they eliminated the state’s contribution to the cost of teacher retirement. Also, inflation has outpaced adequacy funding by 12 percent since 1999, he said, and that gap amounts to $98 million of additional property taxes annually.

“Since 1999, total property taxes paid in New Hampshire has more than doubled,” Fernald writes. That trend would be exacerbated by tens of millions of dollars if the proposed legislation becomes law.

Finally, despite what supporters say about who stands to benefit most from vouchers, it’s clear that well-off families are the big winners. At what private school does $3,400 come even close to covering a year of education?

Whatever philosophical position House members and Gov. Chris Sununu hold regarding SB 193, they should know this: The state’s property tax payers just can’t afford it.

Read the full editorial here.