Concerns around cost of voucher bill are overstated, according to leadership and Union Leader Editorial Board

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The House Finance subcommittee released an amended version of SB 193, the statewide voucher bill, which tightened the eligibility requirements, eliminated the stabilization grants that would protect districts from sharp losses in state aid in favor of one-time grants, and changed the accountability requirements.

Strong debate around the cost and the number of students who would take up a voucher continues. 

From the Union Leader:

School choice supporters, including Gov. Chris Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, believe…fears are based on unrealistic assumptions of how many families will take advantage of the scholarship accounts.

“I think it (the amendment) moves the ball in the right direction toward choice,” said Edelblut. “The concerns many have expressed are overstated. We have many excellent schools in New Hampshire and I think it’s unlikely you will see a mass exodus from that system.”

The major change in the amendment drafted by leaders of the House education and finance committees is the elimination of a stabilization fund to shelter school districts from a significant loss of funding…

Instead, the state would now pay a “one-time adjustment” of only $1,500 for each student who takes advantage of a scholarship and leaves the district.

The new version of the bill caps the number of students who could receive scholarships each year in any one school district. No one school could lose more than 5 percent of its students in a single year.

The household income limit to qualify for scholarships has been reduced from 300 percent to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, while the criteria for private schools receiving scholarship students have been tightened up.

The new amendment requires that the private school be accredited by an accrediting body certified by the Department of Education.

There are many other technical changes, including a narrower window of time each year for parents to make a decision and a delay in implementation by one year, to the 2019-2020 school year.

The Union Leader Editorial Board responded, writing that the House Finance Committee and it’s Chairman, Representative Neal Kurk, were unnecessarily complicating the bill:

It is a simple but powerful concept.

The state’s duty to fund the opportunity for an adequate education lies with the students, and not just with the local public schools where those students live…

So why are the House Finance Committee and its chairman, Rep. Neal Kurk, mucking up the bill?

The committee is scheduled today to take up an amendment put forward by Kurk that would dramatically cut back the Education Savings Account program. Kurk says it’s about money, but it’s really about education policy.

Kurk believes that if even 1 percent of New Hampshire public school students take advantage of the new opportunities available under SB 193, it would be too disruptive. Yet the state’s own numbers show the program would only cost the state $705,000.

Local school districts would only receive less state aid if they had fewer students, and the bill has a circuit breaker to limit the impact.

SB 193 is a good bill, and fits well within the state’s budget. The House Finance Committee should stop second guessing education policy decisions.

If it can’t resist meddling, the full House should reject its interference and send a clean bill to Gov. Chris Sununu.

Sources: Major changes proposed for school choice bill opposed by Democrats and Kurk’s folly: Complicating school choice bill, from the Union Leader