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School Board discusses voucher bill

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School Board discussed school vouchers with Wilton Representative Carol Roberts during its meeting on Tuesday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Wilton-Lyndeborough School Board discussed the potential impacts of SB 193 — what is sometimes called the “school voucher” or “school choice” bill — with Wilton Representative Carol Roberts on Tuesday.

The bill allows for Education Freedom Savings Accounts, where eligible students would receive funds to offset non-public education, whether it be through private school or home schooling – about $3,300. The funds would come from state adequacy aid, which is typically given to schools on a per-student basis.  

The bill has passed in the New Hampshire Senate, and sent on to the House of Representatives, where there have been sweeping amendments that narrow the pool of eligible candidates made by the House Education Committee. The bill is anticipated to be voted on in the House in January, though if it passes, the amendments mean that it will have to go back to the Senate for review.

“I have very serious misgivings about the bill,” said Roberts, a Wilton Democrat, during Tuesday’s joint meeting of the School Board and the Budget Committee. “The direction of education in this state is of great concern to me.”

The bill is intended to give parents more choice when it comes to their child’s education, and have the possible side effect of lowering local taxes if enough students take advantage of it to move out of the public system that schools can downsize. Opponents of the bill protest that it doesn’t provide enough oversight of the use of public funds for education, that it would give an avenue for the use of public funds for religious schools in violation of separation of church and state, and that it would negatively impact local schools which may take a hit in the form of lost adequacy aid.

School board chair Harry Daily noted that he was concerned about the loss of adequacy aid. Even if 20 or more — in other words, an entire classroom’s worth — of students’ parents decided to use the funds to secure alternate schooling for their child, it wasn’t likely that the district would be able to eliminate a teacher, he said. Because those students would be spread across the grades, it was unlikely that enough students from a single grade would leave the district to eliminate staff and reduce cost.

“Our cost structures don’t change, but our revenue changes,” Daily said.

House changes to the bill

The sudden loss of revenue is one of the changes addressed in the amended bill. Under the House version, schools would be eligible for a stabilization grant, which would allow for no more of a change in adequacy aid than a quarter of one percent of the district’s total budget. For Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative, that would be about $30,000.

School Board Vice-Chair Geoff Brock said he had misgivings that those grants would be fully funded each year, comparing them to catastrophic aid grants available to schools, which he said in his experience as a School Board member have never been fully funded.

The House bill also narrows the candidate pool for which students are eligible for the Education Freedom Savings Accounts. Among the new requirements are that the family be within three times the poverty level – about $75,000 – that the child either be entering school for the first time or have spent at least one year in public school, or those who were assigned to a public school for two years and are able to demonstrate that it didn’t provide an opportunity for adequate education.

Some School Board and Budget Committee members said they didn’t see a lot of people taking advantage of the system.

“I don’t think there will be a mass exodus,” said Budget Committee member Lisa Post. 

But the issue, said Daily, is that there is no way to know until it happens. 

The House of Representatives is set to vote on SB 193 in January. 

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.