Analysis: School voucher bill could cost N.H. $36M over 12 years

Monitor staff
Published: 1/30/2018 7:31:34 PM

A school choice bill that would create a voucher-like system in New Hampshire could cost the state $36 million over 12 years, according to a new analysis from the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Budget Assistant.

Over that same period, school districts statewide would lose out on $143 million in state aid. It’s unknown whether this would actually be a net loss or savings to local schools, because the LBA’s model didn’t calculate how much districts would save on costs when students transferred out. A representative from the LBA said his office didn’t have enough information about how variable or fixed costs are at the district level.

“We just didn’t want to assume anything across the board,” LBA Budget Analyst Michael Landrigan told lawmakers Tuesday.

As legislators in Concord mull whether to enact an education savings account program – which would allow eligible families to put state education money toward private schooling expenses – a central concern has been how much the school choice proposal would ultimately cost the state.

A subpanel of the House Finance Committee has been taking a deep dive into the bill’s potential financial implications.

If the bill were eventually tweaked to restrict participation – or reduce reimbursements to local schools – in order to limit the state’s financial liability, it would likely be on the committee’s recommendation.

Last week, State Board of Education member and public school advocate Bill Duncan presented his own projections. Duncan testified the bill could result in a whopping $338 million drain on the general fund over a 13-year period.

The discrepancy between Duncan’s analysis and the LBA’s is mostly the result of different assumptions about participation rates. Duncan argued that participation in analogous programs in other states grew rapidly, and he built a 12 percent growth rate into his model. Cumulatively, more than 47,000 children would partake in the program, according to Duncan’s model.

The projections presented by the LBA, on the other hand, assumed 1,114 participants in the first year, and 3,895 in the program by 2031.

Still, even at the LBA’s much more conservative estimates, Rep. Karen Umberger, the Kearsarge Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said she’s “not really” comfortable with the potential price tag.

“That’s money that will be not able to go to some other program. And so we have to make a decision – does education, as a whole, have a higher priority than the opioid crisis?” she said.

The subcommittee will hear additional testimony Thursday, but it could be months before changes, if any, are made.

“The bill is not due out to the floor until March 31. And so I’ve got some time to do this, and I just want to make sure we’re covering all the bases,” Umberger said.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)

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