Story Originally Posted By New Hampshire Bulletim
For decades, âpublic funding of educationâ has had a simple connotation: money, collected by the state and local taxpayers, goes to local public schools.
But Rep. Kevin Verville sees this as the wrong definition. And he’s betting his fellow Republican lawmakers are doing it too.
âWhen I hear the term public education, I mean that we are going to educate the children of a community using public money. That’s what I hear, âhe said in an interview. âSome people mean that public education means that we are going to build and staff a school, we are going to offer a one-size-fits-all solution. And if you don’t like it then after paying for it you can choose to pay for a second school on top of that.
Verville, a Republican from Deerfield, is the architect of a bill that would bring the state closer to this alternative view of funding education. Months after adopting a scheme to allow public education funding to go towards tuition for private schools and home schooling, Verville and Republicans on the House Education Committee are keen to extend that model to local taxes.
The law project, Bill House 607, would create an optional local version of the âAccounts for Freedom of Educationâ program adopted this summer. Under the proposed law, parents in participating cities could access thousands of dollars from a city’s public school tuition and use it for private school or home schooling expenses.
The process described in HB 607 would require local approval; residents of school districts should enroll in the program. The bill requires three-fifths of voters attending the district’s annual meeting to choose to create the localized savings account program.
But Verville says he thinks some communities would join us.
âI’m optimistic that there are communities that will take this up and lead the experiment,â he said. âYou know, don’t forget that the United States is based on federalism, and states are supposed to be the laboratories of democracy. And so, when a state does things right, these are the things that you share with the rest of the country. And this program is one of those little experiments in democracy.
House Bill 607, which sparked heated debate in a committee session on Tuesday, is the latest in a proposal to shift Republican-led education funding toward school choice . This year’s budget trailer bill, House Bill 2, created the statewide savings account program, allowing adequate funding from public schools to be used for private school spending or home schooling.
Democrats have lambasted the efforts as attempts to overthrow the public school funding system; school administrators fear the new accounts will force further cuts to budgets and programs.
On Tuesday, the House education committee voted to advance the bill, 10-9, across party lines.
By some action, the proposed local education savings program could provide more public funding than the existing statewide program.
The bill would allow parents to access 80 percent of the amount of locally collected tuition that goes to public school children – minus the amount the district spends on special education. This amount can range from about $ 5,000 to about $ 20,000 per year, depending on district spending. The program would not be available to families who already participate in the statewide savings account program, which gives an average of $ 4,600 per year.
Once a district joined the program, the school district superintendent would be required to allocate savings accounts based on a formula established by proposed law. The superintendent would take the total approved district budget, subtract any federal grants or state funding, reduce the total amount by 20%, and divide it by the average daily number of students in the district. This number would determine how much each student could receive in the savings account, by law.
The money could be used for private school tuition, textbooks, tutors, laptops, uniforms, learning materials, transportation, and entry to standardized tests.
Unlike the state’s existing âEducation Freedom Accountâ program, the proposed new local program would not include an income cap. The existing program only allows families earning 300 percent or less of the federal poverty line, or $ 79,500 for a family of four.
And the bill includes “grandfather” provisions that would allow a family that received a certain amount in the first year – based on the local per pupil formula for that year – to continue to receive that fixed amount, although spending per student changes. .
The bill allows a school district to reverse its decision with another district-wide vote – provided the votes no also clear the 60 percent threshold. But all families that benefited from the program would still be grandfathered until their child graduated from high school, even if the program were dissolved.
“Opponents who say this will drive up the costs of education and that we are burying property taxpayers alive,” Verville said. âI would say they are absolutely incorrect. If their prediction is correct, then the communities will repeal this program very, very quickly because that is what the voters are doing.
The proposed local program differs in financial details from the statewide program; The state’s education trust fund money is mostly funded by business taxes, while the local program would receive funding entirely from local taxpayers. The state program, meanwhile, has exceeded participation expectations this year, with 1,600 students currently enrolled.
Verville said despite the increased interest, he saw no fiscal risk for cities.
âThe public schools in New Hampshire are by far excellent schools that serve the vast majority of students very, very well,â he said. “And anyone who says that a program like this will cause a mass exodus from a school, I think, should be required to explain how and why that would happen.”
Still, Verville said the bill is not meant to save money, but to shift focus.
âI have critics on my side, they look at this and they say, ‘Well, this is not a tax saving bill,’â he said. “And I’m like, ‘No it’s not.’ This is not a money cut – this is not a tax cut bill It is (pretty much) the best education for the child.
Debating the bill on Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats took increasingly divergent views on education.
Republicans on the committee called the bill a “win-win” for districts and an expansion of the “school choice” movement that could allow families to receive education assistance. And they noted that the high 60 percent voting threshold meant that only constituencies whose voters were particularly convinced of the program’s success would be able to participate.
Rep. Erica Layon, a Republican from Derry, said cities should be given the option. âThere are some cities that could benefit from it,â she said. “And I think it’s important to give cities the choice and availability of towns and cities.”
And Rep. Ralph Boehm, a Republican from Litchfield, argued that most towns are unlikely to opt for the program as it passed.
âSixty percent should vote for this,â he said. âI don’t know of any city that would. If they did, they would have a very bad public school system.
But Democrats attacked the bill, which they said would allow residents to vote by dramatically siphoning local tax money from public schools.
Representative Linda Tanner, a Democrat from Sunapee, noted that Democrats have long warned that if children leave school districts to attend programs such as AETs, fixed construction and maintenance costs mean school districts cannot decrease accordingly. âIt increases the stake even more,â she said.
Tanner added: “I hope the rationale is not to get rid of ‘lousy school systems’ as was quoted by Representative Boehm,” she said. “I hope what we’re trying to do is support all of our public school systems, but I’m not sure we’re really going to do it.”
Other Democrats argued that the proposal was being brought out of committee without sufficient discussion. Most of the bill first appeared as an amendment to an existing bill at a November 10 meeting; he was not heard.
The committee’s discussion at times became heated – and secular.
âThis is a holdback bill, so you’ve had the bill for six months,â Rep. Gregory Hill, a Northfield Republican, said addressing Democrats. âSo, I don’t know why (these concerns) are occurring now. “
“This is bullshit,” shouted Rep. Dave Luneau, a Democrat from Hopkinton, pointing. Several colleagues brought him back to his seat.
After the vote, the bill will go to a plenary vote at its next meeting on January 5 and 6.