The idea of school choice sounds terrific. What parent wouldn’t do anything in their power to give their child every opportunity to succeed in the classroom and beyond?
Supporters of Senate Bill 193, which is scheduled to be voted on by the full Senate on Thursday, want New Hampshire families to believe that “education freedom savings accounts” will do just that.
The truth is that the proposal – a universal voucher program – may be a boon for families that already home-school their children or send them to private schools, but will simultaneously erode public schools and cost taxpayers millions.
This is how the program works.
Under SB 193, parents would be able to sign a contract with a scholarship organization in which parents agree to provide an education for their child. Once the commissioner of education is notified of the contract, the Department of Education would then transfer public funds into an account that the parents could access to pay for educational services. For each home-schooled child, the state would transfer $2,500. Each student attending a private school would receive 90 percent of the per-pupil state adequacy grant, or about $3,400.
Here’s where it gets expensive for the state. Parents who are already home-schooling their children or sending them to private school would have a clear incentive to sign up for the program. For the approximately 6,000 kids being home-schooled in New Hampshire and the 16,800 students attending private schools, the cost to the state would be up to $60 million each year if all those families signed up with the scholarship organization. And why wouldn’t they? It’s free money.
Here’s where it gets expensive for towns. Say a community has 600 students, which amounts to a state adequacy grant of $2,160,000 (600 multiplied by the adequacy rate of $3,600). Now let’s say that 60 students take advantage of the voucher program. That’s a loss of $216,000 to the district. Because the students would likely be spread out among all the grades, recouping that money wouldn’t be as simple as, say, going from three classrooms to two and cutting a teaching position. Voters would either have to raise property taxes to cover the shortfall or eliminate programs that benefit all students, such as art, music or athletic programs.
If Gov. Chris Sununu and lawmakers really want to create school choice that benefits everybody, they would be wise to take the $60 million they are willing to invest in vouchers and spend it on the passions of all students regardless of economic circumstances. If a student hopes to design bridges or cure cancer, invest in that dream by offering college courses in high school. At $250 per course, $30 million would pay for 120,000 college course for students in the state. New Hampshire is already a leader in project-based learning, so why not build on that? Why not invest in every child’s future instead of turning public schools into the domain of the have nots?
The bottom line is that a $3,400 voucher isn’t nearly enough money for a low-income family to send their kid to a good private school. For that reason, SB 193 essentially functions as the transfer of money from poor families to those who can afford private school regardless of whether they receive a voucher.
We hope New Hampshire lawmakers are not fooled when supporters of voucher programs call it “school choice.” The real choice is whether to invest in public schools for the benefit of all or vouchers for the benefit of a few.