Voucher advocates say SB 193 “is a great start”

Some advocates of SB 193, the statewide voucher bill, are voicing both concerns and optimism about limitations to the program. One supporter called it a “great start,” and another said that it could help boost enrollment in a new Catholic school set to open in Claremont, according to the Valley News:

Home-schoolers and school choice advocates from the Upper Valley and beyond are hailing a voucher-like program under consideration in the New Hampshire Legislature, but also expressing concern that proposed limitations to protect public schools’ finances could blunt its benefits.

The legislation, known as SB 193, has sparked heated debates in the state capital between public-school advocates who fear damage to school systems and school-choice supporters, who say parents ought to decide how best to educate their children. In the Upper Valley, the measure has drawn interest from school choice advocates and home-schoolers in Plainfield, as well as leaders of a new Catholic school planned for Claremont.

“I think our family’s a really good example,” said Bill McGonigle, a Plainfield resident who is sending his daughter, Emma, to nearby private school Kimball Union Academy, rather than to Lebanon public schools.

Emma, a freshman, would have gone to Lebanon High School under an agreement that sends students from Plainfield, which has no public high school, to Lebanon. Instead, her family is sending her to KUA, with help paying the $39,500 2017-18 tuition from Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire, a nonprofit that backs SB 193…

In order to limit losses to public schools, legislators have added clauses to SB 193 that limit use of the education savings accounts to people who fall under an income limit, were rejected from charter schools, have special education plans, or unsuccessfully applied for state education tax credits. The bill also says that children already being home-schooled do not qualify.

Those caveats may rule out people like Kim Moss, a nutritionist and online teacher who home-schools her high school-age son Zethan, in Plainfield.

“They’re going to cut out the entire middle class,” Moss said of the income limits, which she said likely would rule her out — not to mention the provision that excludes children already being home schooled.

As it stands, the limit is 300 percent of the federal poverty line, or an annual income of about $75,000 for a family of four in 2018.

Moss and others in the home-schooling community said the roughly $3,600 in annual state adequacy aid — the voucher could be worth more for students in English as a second language programs, with special education plans or who receive free or reduced lunch — could make a serious difference for families, even if they don’t fall under the income guidelines.

Zethan Moss, for instance, hopes to become a film composer one day, and is taking online classes in composition that cost the family several hundred dollars a pop.

His mother, who herself teaches online literature courses to students around the world, said Zethan hoped to become “the next John Williams or Hans Zimmer” — an aspiration that a less restrictive voucher framework could support.

“I think it’s a great start,” Kim Moss said of the bill, “but for me personally, I wish they wouldn’t have put in the income restriction.”

Margaret Drye, another Plainfield resident who recently finished home schooling her nine children, calculated that the program could have afforded as much as $19,000 a year toward her children’s education — “higher than our school taxes, to say the least,” she said…

The Rev. Shawn Therrien, the pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Claremont, which is slated to open a Catholic school in August, said he supported the legislation as proposed.

“If we truly believe that education is important, there’s one aspect where it doesn’t matter who’s doing the educating, as long as it’s within the guidelines established by the state and agreed upon by reasonable people,” he said. “Teaching math is not religious.”

Although the school hasn’t yet opened and tuition rates have not yet been set — Therrien said the school may settle somewhere around $5,000 a year — the pastor predicted that education savings accounts could boost enrollment.

“I think it would provide a greater opportunity for those who would like to send their kid to a parochial school but perhaps can’t afford it,” he said.

Source: Advocates Cautiously Optimistic About Voucher-Like Education Program | Valley News