Republicans call for bill to allow public education funds to go to private schools
The Republican House leadership on Tuesday unveiled a bill to allow Granite State parents to use public school funds for private school tuition – the first step in what is expected to be a major legislative battle this year.
In a hearing that extended into the afternoon, the House Education Committee considered House Bill 20, which would establish “accounts for freedom of education.” In New Hampshire.
The bill, officially named the “Richard ‘Dick’ Hinch Education Freedom Account Program,” would create the most comprehensive education voucher program in the country.
Advocates for the program, who include a number of House Republicans, said the program would help struggling students in public schools find other options.
“I think anyone in this state who wants to make sure our children have the best education possible should, and I hope, will support this bill,” said President Sherman Packard, who cited the former President Dick Hinch, who died in office in December and who originally sponsored the bill.
Democrats, meanwhile, said the program would only hurt public schools by diverting taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools. Unlike public schools, which must educate all students, private schools can be selective, which could lead to discrimination, lawmakers said.
Currently, New Hampshire sends a certain allocation of taxpayer funds to each public school per student. House Bill 20 would allow parents to remove their child from a public school and take their student’s state funding allowance with them.
Under the bill, a parent could withdraw their child and this allowance would go into a “freedom of education account” managed by a private scholarship program. The parent could then use the amount in that account to help pay for tuition at a private school instead – or use it for tuition or other expenses. Parents would receive at least $ 3,700 per year in basic adequacy assistance, in addition to potential assistance with fiscal capacity disparities given to some low-income communities.
According to the version of the bill presented on Tuesday, the uses of these educational funds could be wide. Parents could spend the money on school fees; online learning programs; contractual services in public schools; computers or technology needed by their child; Software; school uniforms; fees for SATs and other standardized tests; vocational technical schools; and tuition fees for college courses.
The accounts would be accessible to all students currently enrolled in public schools, with no income limitation.
HB 20 is Republicans’ second effort in four years to pass a voucher-like program that gives parents access to private education, and comes as the party holds a narrow majority in the House and a healthy majority in the Senate .
An attempt in 2017 and 2018, Senate Bill 193 narrowly fell into New Hampshire House after some Republicans complained it was too watered down.
But HB 20 is more ambitious than SB 193, increasing the number of potential uses of the funds and removing the limitations that they are only available to low-income families.
Democrats and public school advocates voiced strong opposition on Tuesday, saying the bill would drain state taxes from public schools and increase local property taxes to compensate.
In a press conference Monday, Representative Doug Ley, a Jaffrey Democrat and president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, lambasted the bill, which he called a “radical overhaul” of the New Hampshire education system with insufficient accountability.
“The budgets of public schools are drawn up in public by elected public officials,” he said. “Nothing is public in HB 20 except the fact that public funds are spent. “
In addition, “education service providers” – the language of legislation for schools, “should be given maximum freedom to meet the educational needs of… students without government control”. The bill adds that “no education service provider will be required to change its beliefs, practices, admissions policy or curriculum in order to accept payments from a ( education savings). “
Ley and other Democrats questioned whether this could mean that funds could go to schools that discriminate in their admissions process, for example against LGBTQ students.
And they raised concerns that the funding could benefit schools that would be exempt from state laws governing curriculum.
Representative Glenn Cordelli, a Republican from Tuftonboro and a major sponsor of the bill, said some federal anti-discrimination laws apply to private schools, but said the bill allows religious schools to conduct their own practices in accordance with their faith.
And he said the responsibility should come from the parents.
“He has a better way of assessment: and that is parental responsibility,” he said. “A parent can walk, take their money with them, if their child does not receive a proper education. “