My Turn: SB 193 is a threat to public education and democracy

For the Monitor
Thursday, November 16, 2017

On Nov. 8, after a lengthy caucus discussion of Senate Bill 193, the school voucher bill, New Hampshire House Education Chair Rick Ladd announced that the vote on this bill would be delayed until today, Nov. 14.

Why should you care? I believe every single taxpayer and citizen of our democracy should care because SB 193, patterned on bills introduced in state legislatures across the nation, is designed to take your tax dollars, money the state would ordinarily provide per pupil, to pay for home-schooling, or private or religious schools chosen by parents but not seriously regulated or overseen by any of us who will have invested our money in them. No principal or superintendent or school board will be available to you to discuss any concerns or recommendations regardless of the fact that your tax dollars will be used to support that private educational enterprise.

Your tax dollars will be given directly to parents, who meet eligibility requirements, to spend as they choose, even if that means paying for religious education for their child. New Hampshire’s school voucher bill, called a parental choice bill by its supporters, is part of a national movement that will gradually but surely drain tax dollars from local public schools and invest them in private education over which taxpayers will have virtually no oversight or control.

Gov. Chris Sununu, noting that there are underperforming schools and that not every child is successful in winning a charter school lottery, suggested in the Monitor on Nov. 8, that the number of students who would take advantage of the school voucher bill’s “education savings accounts” would be small and targeted. The fact is that, if this bill is eventually passed, there will be students leaving public schools and public tax dollars will be taken from public school budgets that are already tight. The suggestion by some legislators that state money will somehow be found to replace any lost public school funding is an interesting one given New Hampshire’s struggle to find the funds necessary to assist towns to repair or replace aging schools.

The governor also said that we must care deeply about students who would receive school vouchers, but what about the thousands upon thousands of public school students whose futures matter just as much? What about the public schools who by law must accept every single student who comes through their doors? Of course there are public schools that need to be improved. So why can we not recognize this reality and invest in these schools to make them the schools they could and should be? Why should we risk destroying New Hampshire’s largely successful and highly ranked public school system by draining it unnecessarily of needed financial resources?

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams saw public education paid for by tax dollars as the glue that would help to bind citizens together into a successful democratic republic. These men understood that public schools would give young people an opportunity to practice democracy by encountering a diverse community of fellow Americans. If passed, the proposed school voucher system would funnel students into separate schooling environments where this democratic diversity would be muted.

On its surface SB 193 may appear to be an innocent, good idea, but looked at more closely SB 193 is a threat aimed directly at the heart of our democracy.

(Janet Ward lives in Contoocook.)

(Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Janet Ward’s place of residence.)