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The Croydon Bill Part of the Long Game of Voucher Advocates

June 3, 2017

Friday’s “Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post featured a post by Carol Burris titled “The Long Game of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos”. Burris’ premise is that voucher advocates like Ms. DeVos are willing to support incremental legislation that will ultimately lead to the complete dissolution of universal public education designed to provide every child with an equitable opportunity to learn.

Yesterday I read in our local newspaper that the NH legislature’s latest version of HB 557, the “Croydon bill”, is set to pass. According to the article the amended bill allows children “to attend private school using tax money, provided that their public school districts don’t cover their grade levels” and includes a a proviso that “private schools benefiting from this program be nonsectarian, that the schools administer educational assessments and that they be approved by the State Board of Education.”

This kind of bill is an example of the “long game” voucher advocates are playing. The bill addresses a legitimate need—a community that is too small to support a K-12 school system and whose board chooses to remain outside of a School Administrative Unit— needs to provide an education for the children in their town. And it does seem eminently reasonable for the local School Board to pay the tuition costs for that student to attend a school approved by the State Department of Education. But if one looks at this kind of legislation, it is evident that it is not as innocuous as it seems at first blush, especially given our voucher loving Governor and homeschooling advocate appointed as Commissioner of Education. Here are some problems the bill fails to address:

  • EQUITY: Because the bill caps costs and allows parents to enroll their children in private or relatively expensive public schools, those affluent parents who can afford to pay the cost differential out of pocket will receive a benefit that is unavailable to children raised in poverty.
  • SUBSIDIZING PRE-EXISTING VOLUNTARY PARENT FUNDING: Some parents in communities where “…public school districts don’t cover their grade levels” are already funding a private nonsectarian school in lieu of sending their child to the closest public school. Under current laws, taxpayers are not required to reimburse parents who voluntarily enroll their children in private schools. Under HB 577 it is possible that these parents could seek reimbursements, creating de facto vouchers.
  • LONG RANGE IMPACT ON TUITION AGREEMENTS, SAU ALIGNMENTS: Most towns in NH do not operate high schools. They typically have tuition agreements with nearby public schools or are in AREA agreements. What impact will this bill have on those agreements in the long run? Will parents who want their children to attend a private school elect Board members who seek the dissolution of those tuition agreements? And if a tuition agreement is dissolved, will a parent who previously enrolled their child in a private school receive funding for that child in subsequent years?
  • CAN FUNDS BE USED TO SUBSIDIZE FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS: Absent language that forbids the use of taxpayer funding for for-profit schools, it is conceivable that parents could enroll their child in one of the many for-profit on-line programs that are available across the country.
  • HOME SCHOOLING: If a parent elects to homeschool their child, will they be entitled to funding? Both Betsy DeVos and NH Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut seem inclined to view home-schooling as equivalent to public schooling.

The long term consequences of this bill should be carefully considered… particularly the issues related to existing tuition agreements. If this legislation ultimately provides parents in communities lacking a HS with the opportunity to receive public funds for their children to attend private schools it could have a devastating impact on high schools across the state as affluent parents use their de facto vouchers to enroll in private academies.

It is not difficult to see where this kind of bill will ultimately lead. When states have Governors who are voucher advocates and legislatures ready to do their bidding EVERY bill that moves away from the traditional governance structure of schools needs to be monitored.

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