In letter to Senate Finance Committee, local leaders voice concerns about school voucher bill

The following letter, signed by 15 mayors and school board chairs, was sent to the Senate Finance Committee this week, prior to its public hearing on the state budget:

Dear Chairman Daniels and Members of the Senate Finance Committee, 

We the undersigned mayors and school board chairs are writing to you concerned about the  potential inclusion of Senate Bill 130 language in the state budget, a bill creating a school  voucher program using property tax money raised at the local level to fund vouchers for private,  religious and homeschool education.  

While some of the undersigned may have objections about such a program on an education  policy level, we all have concerns about the potential for this initiative to downshift costs onto  the property taxpayers of our respective cities. Furthermore, to date, there has been no  independent fiscal analysis conducted by the Legislative Budget Office (LBA) to indicate what  this legislation would mean for costs to our school district. You may recall 3 years ago, on the  heels of the SB 193 being reported out of the education policy committee in the House, then  finance Chairman Kurk asked the LBA to conduct an analysis of the statewide and local impact of SB 193 in order to fully understand the potential its passage would mean for property  taxpayers. After review, Rep. Kurk and a majority of the NH House, ultimately decided that the  potential risk to property taxpayers was too great to move forward.  

Of grave concern to all of us is that with a voucher program in SB 130, one far more expansive  than SB 193 before the Senate, there has been no such analysis completed to date. 

A recent report from Reaching Higher NH, conservatively indicates that SB 130 would cost the  state around $70 million in new education spending over just the next 3 years with no suggested  revenue stream yet determined by the legislature, other than we assume the education trust fund.  

As you well know any shortfall in the education trust funds means a draw on tax dollars from the  general fund. In addition, with just a 3% take up rate among public school families in our school  districts, we collectively could be facing millions of dollars of new local property taxes,  especially as adequate education grants will be phased out.  

Given this recent report, we would respectfully request that for the sake of transparency and  informed public input, that the Senate request a similar financial analysis be done that examines  different scenarios of the impact that a program like the one laid out in Senate passed SB 130  could mean for our local school districts.  

Should this bill be placed into the budget as was announced on the senate floor last month, our  NH House of Representatives will only ever get the chance to vote on this as one item among

dozens of others, depriving them of the chance to make the determination they did from a few  years ago on SB 193, and whether they feel comfortable in adopting a program that could have  such a tremendous financial impact at the local level. 

We the undersigned share that concern and would like to be able to anticipate and judge what  such a program would mean for the residents we represent in the coming years. Give us and our  citizens a look so that we may have a chance to advocate one way or the other with all the  information necessary.  

Thank you for your consideration any your service to our state. 

Mayor Paul Grenier, Berlin
Chair Richard Milius, Lebanon
Chair Ann Nolan, Berlin
Mayor Dana Hilliard, Somersworth
Mayor Charlene Lovett, Claremont
Chair Matt Hanlon, Somersworth
Chair Frank Sprague, Claremont
Mayor & Chair Joyce Craig, Manchester
Interim Mayor Oliva Zink, Franklin
Mayor Jim Donchess, Nashua
Chair Tim Dow, Franklin
Chair Garth McKinney, Nashua
Mayor Andrew Hosmer, Laconia
Mayor Caroline McCarley, Rochester
Mayor Tim McNamara, Lebanon