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My Turn: What’s really behind scholarship repeal effort?

What’s the real reason behind an outrageous attempt to repeal the School Choice Scholarship Act passed by the New Hampshire Legislature only last session, a law that has not even had a chance to prove itself and that just might improve education for all the children of New Hampshire? Perhaps it’s simply the fear, primarily of teachers unions, that this law will actually work.

The New Hampshire House Ways and Means Committee recently approved a bill that would repeal the School Choice Scholarship Act, a law enacted last session that provides tax incentives to businesses that contribute to education tax credit scholarships. These scholarships are intended to help lower-income families afford alternatives to their local public schools. This proposed legislation will now go before the entire House for a vote.

Opponents of the scholarships claim that they will take money away from public schools. While there are certain fixed costs not based on enrollment, other costs, most notably salaries, are directly related to the number of students. Each child that goes to a private school, therefore, actually saves a public school district a significant percentage of the cost of a public education (currently more than $13,000 per year).

Detractors also claim that the scholarship program is unconstitutional because the money can be used at religiously affiliated schools.

But the Supreme Court has already upheld the constitutionality of similar programs in other states. President Obama himself has supported the American Opportunity Tax Credit which has provided tax credits to many families whose children attend religiously affiliated colleges. The money donated for education tax credit scholarships in New Hampshire comes from private businesses and represents pre-tax dollars, the same as other donations to charities.

The teachers unions have promulgated these two myths because they are threatened by the competition that school choice would create.

This healthy competition would force public schools and teachers to improve in order to retain students who would not have to settle for the mediocrity that a monopolistic school system creates. These unions have been lobbying hard for the repeal bill because it supports their members’ best interests rather than those of our children and our future.

Please email your representatives today and urge them to support a better future for our kids by voting “no” on House Bill 370.

(Arlene Quaratiello live in Atkinson.)

Bruce, I do not cherry pick anything. The search I did for the results came up with pages and pages of state results. I did check the latest results out and you are right, the scores did go up. I also noticed that you left out how much they went up by.

The "scholarship" is an unconstitutional attempt at an end-around, with the weasel phrases "pre-tax" and "donation". The law's effect is to take scarce dollars that would otherwise go to the local public schools, and use them for private purposes. There exists a constitutional wall of separation between church and state, and this law vaults over that wall. And the notion that "competition" is the key to school improvement is nothing but a libertarian pipe dream. Parochial schools survived and thrived for generations w/o taxpayer support--that is w/o violating the 1st Amendment's wall of separation between church and state. While Catholic schools were designed to speed acculturation of the Irish, Italians, and French Canadians into the mainstream at a time they faced discrimination from the New England Yankee/WASPs. The new fundamentalist and libertarian schools have the opposite intent. They are designed to create a group deliberately separate from mainstream America, with carefully nurtured beliefs in creationism and intelligent design, the imminent arrival of the Rapture, Armageddon, and the 2nd Coming and, in the case of libertarians, a religious attachment to the pure (and purely hypothetical) "free" market. None of it washes. In this country, we have the right of religious freedom--one is free to believe whatever one wishes, but taxpayer dollars ought not to pay to propagate it. If only supporters of this law read the Constitution as literally as they claim to read their Bible.

We should pass this bill..to find out whats in it.

Typical. No good response to a well-reasoned argument, so the opposition cries out "look over there!"

So sorry we missed you and Kenny at yesterday's Rat Patrol gathering. You missed a wonderful time with some good food - including venison from yours truly!

Bruce, the U.S. Supreme Court and every state court to address the issue have found that scholarship tax credit programs are constitutional under both the First Amendment and the Blaine Amendments found in most state constitutions. The government does not own our money. Private donations to non-profits are private funds, whether or not they qualify for tax credits or deductions. Moreover, you are disingenuously looking at the revenue side only, but not the expenditure side. Public schools are paid based on attendance and that won't change. What you call a "libertarian pipe dream" is actually supported by numerous peer-reviewed, random-controlled studies by top academics. Also, while I can't speak for all Christian schools, as a non-Christian who attended a Catholic high school in NH, I can attest that it was absolutely nothing like you describe. As for the "libertarian" schools, they exist only in your imagination.

Jason, What "numerous peer-reviewed studies, random-controlled studies by top academics" are you referring to that show 'competition' improves public schools? One I've seen that looked at Florida schools showed a positive result at first, but the study didn't control for other variables. The record in general for charter schools everywhere--especially the for-profit and on-line schools, is dismal, and not worthy of emulation. To the extent these moves are driven by supposedly low test scores, the only way charter schools (or any private schools) 'succeed' is by taking the low performing students out of the schools. This has always been true of the Catholic/parochial school like BB. BB is a good school, and a welcome alternative for many middle-income parents to area public schools. However, many of these new schools have a far more conservative bent , and as Bill Duncan's article pointed out--they can operate with little accountability or oversight from the state, yet receive indirect state subsidy in the form of these "pre-tax donations". They neatly circumvent the constitutional strictures of the 1st Amendment in the 5-4 view of a compliant Supreme Court. These plans are ALEC-inspired, designed to weaken public schools, weaken the power of the teachers' unions that stand up to ALEC and their bought politicians, and ultimately drive a stake in the heart of one of our most democratic institutions--the public schools. They would replace them with private, for-profit school, especially of the on-line variety which promise the highest profit margin. This move has been underway for 30 years, driven by the same right-wing movement that has seen wages and jobs stagnate in this country, while wealth accrues to the top tier. This is all happening as real test scores--not the NCLB variety designed so that every public school ultimately 'fails' when none can possibly reach 100% proficiency--are the highest they've ever been. These are the NAEP tests, the 2008 math scores for the 3 age groups tested--9,13,17, have gone up steadily since 1973. In reading, the same age groups are higher than in 2004, and the 9 and 13 ages are higher than 1973. At the same time, graduation rates are at all-time highs and drop-out rates at all-time lows. More kids take high level math courses than ever before. Public schools get a bad rap because those who attack them have a hidden political agenda--its name is ALEC.

ALEC's annual budget is $7 million....... VS....... contributions totaling more than $200 million from the National Education Association and more than $130 million from the American Federation of Teachers—were disclosed in annual reports that unions file with the Labor Department detailing their spending on political activities and advocacy work, as well as separate political-action-committee filings.......and the teachers are paranoid about ALEC?

Not sure where you got your info Bruce. I checked the DOE reports and this is what I found. 26 States reported lower graduation rates. 24 showed unchanged.

Reply to rabbit below: you neglected to add that your numbers happen to come from the year (2008-09) the DOE switched to a more rigorous method of counting. Nevertheless, no matter what method is used, rates continue to go up. Rates were up nationally for both 2011 and 2012 (more recent years than your cherry-picked numbers). Overall, rates are up by any measure over at leasts the last decade.

Reply to sail below: ALEC is a secretive corporate lobbying group that behind closed doors writes "model legislation" that its legislator- members then take back to their respective states, where said legislation resurfaces as "grass-roots" and homegrown. Among the laws that ALEC takes credit for are the "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and NH., as well as legislation on such topics as tobacco taxes and school vouchers. ALEC doesn't necessarily need a big budget to do what it does behind closed doors, functioning, as one state rep put it, "like a corporate dating service" He was too kind--it might more accurately be described as a corporate prostitution ring--since ALEC effectively turns legislators into secret lobbyists. In 2010, John Boenhner received $368,200 from members of ALEC's "private enterprise board". Over and over, the model legislation submitted through ALEC is designed to benefit its corporate stakeholders--Corrections Corporation of America, Atria Philip Morris, Humana Health Care, and Connection Academy, a large on-line education group that stands to benefit whenever and wherever "vouchers" are promoted.

Bruce, here are the studies demonstrating gains for both school choice participants and public school students: http://www.edchoice.org/research/reports/a-win-win-solution--the-empirical-evidence-on-school-vouchers.aspx The "Florida study" you're probably referring to is here: http://educationnext.org/does-competition-improve-public-schools/ They did control for the relevant variables. I address your other concerns here: http://www.cato.org/blog/new-hampshires-governor-vs-kids-taxpayers In short, your constitutional analysis is at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court and every state supreme court to address the matter. Also, odd for you to claim that this program somehow benefits the wealthy when, in fact, it is means-tested.

Also, a second problem: Removing one or two students from a school does NOT save that school any money. Any who thinks so is an idiot. You would have to remove 15-20 students before any teachers could be let go.

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