CONCORD — New Hampshire School Administrators Association (NHSAA) Executive Director Carl Ladd and the NHSAA wish to share information on House Bill 607, legislation that seeks to establish local education savings accounts for students.
House Bill 607, if approved, would permit districts to create a local education freedom savings account program that families of students age 5 to 20 can use for educational expenses such as tuition at participating public schools, charter schools, private schools, or certain educational programs; textbooks, curriculum or materials required to supplement or administer the curriculum; payments to a tutor or tutoring facility; transportation fees of no more than $750 per school year to and from an educational service provider; tuition and fees for online learning programs; education services or therapies from a licensed or certified practitioner or provider, including paraprofessionals; necessary computer hardware and software identified as essential for students to meet annual, measurable goals; or fees for a nationally standardized achievement test, advanced placement exams or college admission exams.
Dr. Ladd submitted testimony to the House Education Committee regarding HB 607, which can be read in full by clicking here.
In his testimony, Dr. Ladd voices concerns that the program would take taxpayer funding away from public schools and lacks accountability and transparency. Ladd also raised questions about the equitability of the bill.
“This bill raises too many questions and appears to try to solve a problem that does not exist,” Dr. Ladd said. “While NHSAA understands the intent behind the bill is to expand opportunities, we feel that this bill is only providing opportunities for some rather than all.”
Based on the current language of the bill, it can be reasoned that taxpayers could be required to raise money for both public school programs and for this voucher program, placing a significant financial burden on some residents. The bill also doesn’t include language about whether students are able to remain in the public school system, meaning funding would possibly need to be raised to support both aspects of a student’s education should they take part in the voucher program.
Conversely, the suggestion that this program would help to reduce operating costs appears to be unfounded as well. For example, if 10 students across 12 grades access the vouchers, there wouldn’t be a need to eliminate staffing, facility maintenance or utilities, federal and state mandates, or other hard costs associated with operating a public school district.
Taxpayers and community members would also have less of a say during the budget process, as the voucher program would be determined through a separate, independent method and residents would be unable to amend or discuss that amount.
Additionally, the bill would require that participating parents fill out a survey to determine the effectiveness and adequacy of the program. An audit is also required annually, but no specific guidelines as to what might be looked at and who would conduct the audit were included in the bill’s language. The lack of concrete metrics allows parents the freedom to educate their children without any educational institution oversight, but also eliminates any transparency or accountability over the academic program or its outcomes.
Whereas any student regardless of race, gender, sexuality, income, religion, special needs, or behavioral history must be accepted into public school systems, private schools select their students based on an admissions process. Public schools are held accountable by the public and are required to make their procedures, policies, rules and regulations public, whereas private schools are not held to the same level of accountability. Students admitted into these programs would attend private schools with the aid of public funds, but the public would have little to no insight into how those decisions had been made or how those funds would be utilized.
Dr. Ladd also expressed concern about the push for this bill, along with other voucher and school choice bills, stating that if these methods are truly in the best interest of the public, a more in-depth and comprehensive approach should be taken, and more research should be done in order to determine ways that all students can benefit from these programs.
Additionally, the bill does not include a fiscal note, stating that the Office of Legislative Budget is awaiting information regarding the bill from the Department of Education. Should a fiscal note become available it will be forwarded to the House Clerk’s Office, according to the bill.
“Voucher programs, especially this one based on the use of local taxpayer funds, essentially benefit those students and families who already participate in private and homeschool programs,” Dr. Ladd said. “I am deeply concerned that these programs could widen the achievement and equity gaps between students who struggle socio-economically or have learning disabilities and their more privileged peers, rather than close them.”
To read the bill in full, click here.
The bill is still being worked on by the House Education Committee and has not yet been passed on to the House of Representatives for a vote.
NHSAA is a nonprofit organization serving approximately 275 members and is dedicated to providing the best possible public education for the children of New Hampshire. Membership of NHSAA includes superintendents of schools, assistant superintendents, school business officials, special education directors, curriculum coordinators and other system administrators.
NHSAA provides its membership with professional development training and conference opportunities as well as myriad resources to support their role as educators, and also honors educational professionals statewide with annual awards including Superintendent of the Year, the Outstanding Service Award and Champions for Children.
To learn more, visit NHSAA’s website by clicking here.