Mary Wilke: School Vouchers and Fiscal Responsibility | Union Leader

Mary Wilke, a retired public school teacher living in Concord, wrote to the Union Leader on the School Vouchers and Fiscal Responsibility.

From the Union Leader:

“State Senate President Jeb Bradley, recently identified fiscal responsibility as one of two top priorities for Republicans this year. Tell that to the Republicans on New Hampshire’s House Education Committee. They just voted in favor of five different bills that would, one way or another, send millions more tax dollars into the ever-expanding sinkhole known as the school voucher program.

Since when is it “fiscally responsible” to expand a program that has been operating with virtually no public accountability or transparency and has produced no verifiable data to show that it’s having a positive impact on student outcomes? A legislatively mandated performance audit of the voucher program is just getting underway. How is it fiscally responsible to commit up to $82M in additional funds to this program, without even waiting for the auditor’s report?

The school voucher program was established three years ago, with the express goal of offering “choice” to low-income students in public schools whose parents wanted a different option for them. But it turns out that three-fourths of the students who took vouchers were already attending private or home school without public subsidy — the only “choice” they made was to take free cash when the state offered it. So in terms of achieving its original goal, most of the money spent so far has been misdirected.

Currently, vouchers are available only to families whose incomes fall below 350% of the federal poverty guidelines. One of the proposed expansion bills would raise this limit to 500% ($156,000 for a family of four). The rest would make vouchers available to some or all New Hampshire families without regard to income, meaning that even millionaires who are having no trouble paying private school tuition would get a helping hand from taxpayers.

It’s shocking to see this massive push to expand the voucher program when to date, we have no data or analyses demonstrating that it’s even worth maintaining. Over the past two and a half years, the program has spent a total of $45 million in taxpayer dollars on “educational service providers” (private or religious schools, for-profit “learning centers”, ski areas, summer camps — you name it). Most of the people and entities being paid with voucher funds do not have to be vetted or accredited by anyone; they need not have any experience, training, or even criminal background checks; and whatever these vendors’ qualifications may or may not be is information unavailable to the taxpayers who are paying them. Nor are they required to make public any information about their students’ progress.

As an example, last year $265,948 was spent on 705 tutors and tutoring services. Who’s to say a parent isn’t hiring a relative, even possibly one of her own children, to tutor a child? Are the tutors qualified? Are the rates we’re paying them reasonable? Are students showing up for the tutoring, and are they making appropriate academic progress? We, the public, have no way of knowing.

The performance audit referenced above will investigate a number of important questions, such as: Are proper controls in place to ensure that only qualified services and goods are paid for with our tax dollars? Is there a process for identifying and recovering ineligible disbursements? Are there appropriate procedures to discover potential misuse of funds by parents? And — again, the $82 million question — has the voucher program improved the educational outcomes of the students it was designed to serve?

Wouldn’t it make sense for the same lawmakers who mandated the performance audit to wait and see the answers to these questions before expanding the voucher program? That’s what I’d call fiscal responsibility.

On Thursday, Feb. 8, the full House of Representatives will vote on three of the expansion bills, which were opposed by 93% of the Granite Staters who submitted testimony on them. Please contact your state representatives (find them at and ask them to vote against any bill expanding the school voucher program.”

Read more on the New Hampshires school voucher program here: