CONCORD, N.H. — The constant tweaking of a bill that would use public money to send New Hampshire children to private school is further proof that it should fail, a group of school administrators, teachers and parents said Thursday.
“It has been through so many iterations, and there have been so many amendments to this bill that it is almost unrecognizable from where it started, and yet we’re still waiting for another amendment to come forward next week,” said Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association.
The bill, which is supported by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, 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. The House voted 184-162 in January to advance it to its Finance Committee, which has substantially overhauled it.
One recent version would reduce subsidies to cities and towns that lose public school students, tighten eligibility requirements and increase accountability for private schools that benefit from the program.
Supporters argue that a voucher system simply returns money to taxpayers who should decide which school best fits the needs of their children, and that it would have minimal impact on districts that lose students. Opponents argue that the bill siphons money from already cash-strapped public schools and sends it to private schools that can discriminate against children with disabilities and requires participants to give up their right to special education services.
If a child uses a scholarship but then returns to a public school after several months, the public school will be responsible for providing for such services without the money to do so, said Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu, director of the New Hampshire of Special Education Administrators.
“From the lens of special education, Senate bill 193 denies equal educational opportunities for students with disabilities,” she said. “Diverting public funds to private and parochial schools that are allowed to discriminate against students with disabilities is wrong and has a very high potential of being legally challenged.”
Michelle McKinnon, president of the New Hampshire PTA, said the state should do more to support public schools, not less.
“Real school choice means having learning options within our public schools that give parents and educators a chance at unlocking the success story within every child,” she said.
The bill’s critics also argue that communities that lose state funding under the program will raise property taxes because they still will have to pay teachers even if some students leave. But a conservative think tank and a school choice advocacy group released a report Thursday showing public school spending increases have been concentrated in non-teaching positions and have far outpaced student enrollment growth.
That means schools have options for finding savings that don’t involve cutting teachers, said Andrew Cline, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.
The report, released by the center and the advocacy group EdChoice, shows that between 1992 and 2014, spending per student increased by 56 percent, while enrollment grew by 4 percent. The number of teachers increased by 29 percent during that time, while the number of non-teaching staffers increased by 89 percent.
A subcommittee work session on the bill is set for Wednesday.