According to the Concord Monitor, the subcommittee that is studying SB 193, the universal voucher bill that establishes “educational freedom savings accounts” in New Hampshire, still has some major details to iron out:
On Wednesday, four months before the full Legislature reconvenes, representatives on the subcommittee sidestepped the political firestorm, tinkering instead with the present draft around the edges. They removed from eligibility children who are currently home-schooled and do not receive adequacy funding, and they added trade and career schools to the list of qualified institutions to receive money.
But addressing the management of the funds themselves, legislators said more work is needed to ensure oversight. In pointed questioning, Myler raised doubts over whether taxpayer money should be trusted with private organizations holding sway over educational outcomes.
“I’m concerned about our fiduciary responsibility as a Legislature,” Myler said.
“Where’s the responsibility to make sure the funds are in fact being utilized with the legislative intent here?” asked Mel Myler, D-Contoocook, noting that “there would be tighter control” if the program were administered in the Department of Education.
Myler questioned whether provisions should be included to protect those leaving public schools for private ones from being discriminated against for disabilities. Wolf said that the broadened choice afforded by the bill would offset difficulties gaining admission at any particular school.
And committee chairman Rick Ladd, R-Grafton, broached another thorny topic: whether the bill’s implicit inclusion of religious education institutions – which some say could breach separation of church and state – can pass constitutional muster. A report released Wednesday by the right-leaning Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy determined that the present draft of SB 193 would hold up against legal challenge. Ladd passed out copies of the report, conducted in conjunction with the Institute for Justice, at the hearing.
But speaking after the hearing – months ahead of what could be a fiery floor fight if the bill makes it through committee – Ladd said many options remain to be explored in future hearings, including whether to include religious schools, to add caps on departures from individual schools to prevent a plummet in enrollment, and to establish a poverty level governing eligibility for the program.
“As it stands right now, (the bill) hasn’t been developed as thoroughly as it needs to be developed,” he said.