School choice bill clears key committee in 10-9 vote

From the Union Leader

The Union Leader reported on the House Education Committee’s recommendation to pass SB 193, the bill that would create a statewide voucher program through education freedom savings accounts, and the changes from the original version:

New Hampshire is one step closer to enacting one of the most expansive school choice laws in the country.

With a 10-9 vote, the House Education Committee on Tuesday endorsed SB 193, which would offer parents state-funded scholarships to send their children to private schools, including religious schools, or to pay for home schooling…

The full House will take up the bill when it reconvenes in January, with an “ought-to-pass” recommendation from the Education Committee. If the House passes the bill, it will then go to the House Finance Committee, because of the dollars involved.

Ultimately, the Senate would have to agree to the many changes in the bill made by the House, or the two chambers would have to agree on a common version of the bill before it goes to Sununu for his signature.

The 10-9 committee vote was largely along party lines, although two Republican representatives voted against it (James Grenier of Lempster and Robert Elliott of Salem), while one Democrat voted in favor (Barbara Shaw of Manchester).

Sununu applauded the bipartisan vote, and encouraged lawmakers to move forward with the bill.

“Politics were put aside today, and I applaud the House Education Committee for reaching a bipartisan compromise that puts New Hampshire families first,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to champion this ground-breaking legislation and will work with other members of the legislature as this bill moves through the process…”

The bill is now twice as long, with an amendment filed at Sununu’s request that restricts eligibility for the scholarships to households with family income at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level, although that barrier could be overcome by other criteria, such as students with “individual education plans” or students who applied but failed to gain admission to a public charter school.

House Education Committee Chairman Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, said several changes were made to accommodate concerns raised by the governor and by certain representatives on the Education Committee to get the necessary votes.

“We had a strategy and the strategy worked,” he said. “We communicated with people and worked with them to get their votes.”

In addition to new eligibility requirements, the version of the bill that now moves to the House contains provisions for accountability and reporting by parents in the program, mandatory audits of each scholarship by the scholarship organization, and a provision for grants to public school districts to compensate for any losses in revenues above one quarter of one percent.

There is also a sunset provision in the committee version of the bill. Unless an oversight commission recommends continuation of the program at the end of five years, it will expire in 2023.

Ladd urged the committee to endorse the bill as a way of helping students whose needs are not being met in their assigned public schools.

“Then target this to those students who are in those situations, and not to such a wide range of the population that almost anyone could qualify,” said Rep. Linda Tanner, D-Cornish. “If you want to base it on truancy, discipline, social or emotional issues identified by the school so that parents could take advantage of it, that would be one thing, but we just opened the flood gates for everyone.”

NHPR posted the amended bill:

Source: School choice bill clears key committee in 10-9 vote | Union Leader