Home > Uncategorized > School Choice Bill Advances in New Hampshire… Depressed District Budgets Sure to Follow

School Choice Bill Advances in New Hampshire… Depressed District Budgets Sure to Follow

I read with despair a brief report from AP describing the narrow passage of SB 193, erroneously referred to as “the school choice” bill. Here’s the description:

The House Education Committee last week narrowly approved an overhauled version of a Senate-passed bill that would allow parents to use public money to send children to private schools.

The bill would provide parents with the state’s basic per-pupil grant of roughly $3,000 to be used for private school tuition or home schooling.

To qualify, parents would have to have a household income less than or equal to 300 percent of the federal poverty limit, live in an underperforming school district, have a child with an individual education plan or tried unsuccessfully to enroll a child in a charter school or get an education tax credit. Opponents argued the program would violate the state constitution, which says no person shall be compelled to pay to support a religious school.

The practical impact of this is that many middle class parents who currently pay for tuitions to private schools and most of the parents who home school children will access the $3,000 voucher depriving public schools of funds they currently use to educate the children who are already enrolled in their schools. The chart below depicts the federal poverty level for the current year:

Given that the median household income in New Hampshire is $70,303 any school-aged family with more that two children is likely to qualify regardless of the school’s performance level. Furthermore, given that the definition of an “underperforming school” is fluid from year-to-year. In 2012 the New Hampshire State Department of Education identified over 300 schools as being in “need of improvement”, and that number is based largely on test results whose cut scores can be manipulated. Finally, national statistics indicate that 14.6% of New Hampshire students have IEPs. The net effect of these factors makes it probable that at least 50% of the students currently enrolled in public schools might be eligible for the $3,000 vouchers that would be made available through SB 193.

But the potential loss of revenue due to the outmigration of current students is the least of the problems for public schools. Based on data from the A to Z Homeschooling site, there are roughly 6,000 homeschooled students in New Hampshire, a number that could be marginally higher given New Hampshire’s relatively lax enforcement of homeschooling. And the Private School Review web page reports that there are 319 private schools in New Hampshire, serving 29,983 students. Assuming that half of the homeschool students and half of the private school students are eligible for and access the $3,000 voucher offered by SB 193, public schools could lose $654,000 to educate students who were not enrolled in their schools based on a formula used by Reaching Higher NH.  Given that many of those private schools are located in communities that serve children raised in poverty, the loss of the revenues will be devastating. Moreover, the funds that would be diverted from these high poverty schools would be given to parents who are relatively affluent, some of whom would be earning more than the median income for the state.

This bill was passed by a 10-9 margin in the House Education Committee, with one Manchester Democrat voting to support the bill. That legislator is clearly in a bind since the city she represents has 30 private schools enrolling over 3,374 students. But if half of those children qualify for the voucher, Manchester could lose over $61,340 in revenue to educate children who are not enrolled in the schools today but might have been at one time in their schooling. That amount is roughly the cost of one FTE teacher.

I am in the process of confirming my analysis on this… but any way one looks at this bill it is wrongheaded and detrimental to public schools in New Hampshire. Alas, that is the direction our Governor, legislature, and Commissioner want the state to take.

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