My Turn: SB 130 deserves due diligence

For the Monitor
Published: 5/16/2021 11:00:16 AM

The NH State Senate is considering the addition of SB 130, the latest version of a “school voucher” or “education freedom account,” into the state budget. This bill “would create the most expansive voucher program in the country, and SB 130 would cost the state $100 million in new state spending in its first year alone,” according to Reaching Higher NH.

In Pembroke, where I worked from 1989 to 2008, and where I have resided since 2003, we struggle every budget cycle to fund our public schools adequately and also try to keep the tax rate (among the highest in the state) reasonable. It is a difficult process that inevitably results in acrimony between citizens supporting education and those expressing opposition to the increase in cost, much of which is fixed.

I am a product of private schools. I spent about half my career as a high school counselor in private schools and sent my children to private schools for at least part of their education from elementary school to higher education. However, I am a strong advocate of public education.

Besides my career in education, I have spent six years in the state legislature (four of which were on the House Education Committee), six years as a member of the Pembroke School Board, and currently am a member of the Pembroke Municipal Budget Committee.

During my employment in public school systems and consequently my time in the legislature, and on both the school board and the budget committee, I gained an understanding of the difficulty in New Hampshire of adequately funding public education, the unfairness of the reliance on property taxes as the largest source of public education funding, and the tenuous situation that public education in New Hampshire faces.

While on the Education Committee I was part of the process that SB 193 went through as this bill was heard by that committee and by the House Finance Committee. SB 193 was vetted completely in full public view, as was HB 20 this term, with testimony on both sides of the issues. After this process, HB 193 was ultimately rejected by the House, and HB 20 was retained.

SB 130 has received none of the scrutiny that either of those bills was accorded. A bill as significant as SB 130 should at least have the same process as other bills of the same type.

I remain opposed to any bill that would take money away from public schools and public school students, especially at a time that public schools need all the support, financially and otherwise, that they can get. Being in a position as a budget committee member, I take my responsibility of making decisions regarding the local school budget and the situation facing the taxpayers of my community seriously.

The enactment of SB 130 would undoubtedly cause higher taxes to the citizens of Pembroke as state money is siphoned from adequacy funds and the increased deficit would be downshifted to the communities, mine included. I encourage New Hampshire citizens to express their opinion of the insertion of SB 130 into the budget without adequate scrutiny to their senator.

(David Doherty lives in Pembroke.)

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