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Groups Analyze School Choice



Associated Press
Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Concord — Two public policy groups provided closer looks on Wednesday at the financial impact of the school voucher bill under consideration in New Hampshire.

Reaching Higher New Hampshire, which promotes public education, and the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, released reports analyzing the bill, which would allow parents to use public money to send children to private schools and could come up for a vote in January. The bill passed the Senate in March, and the House Finance Committee recommended an overhauled version last month.

In its report, Reaching Higher New Hampshire estimated that school districts would lose $5.8 million in state funding if 3 percent of students get vouchers during the first year of the program. The state would spend $2.2 million that year in stabilization grants to compensate districts that lose more than one quarter of 1 percent of their previous year’s budget, and that total would rise to $10.1 million in five years. Additionally, the state would need to spend about $2.6 million a year for students who currently are in private schools who get vouchers, the group said.

The Bartlett Center noted districts have weathered far larger drops in enrollment in recent years, and even if 5 percent of students use vouchers, districts would still keep 98.7 percent of their budgets intact. It found that from 2010-2015, the average change in enrollment was a decline of 7 percent.

“These figures show that the supposedly dire enrollment reductions projected by (Education Savings Account) opponents are actually within the normal annual variation for New Hampshire school districts,” the group said. “The data further show that even without the stabilization grants provided in the House version of SB 193, a district that loses as much as 5 percent of its student body could nonetheless be expected to retain more than 98 percent of its operation budget.”

The Reaching Higher New Hampshire analysis also estimates that nearly three quarters of students eligible for a voucher will come from communities that rank in the bottom half of the state in terms of their property tax base. Those communities would have a harder time raising money through property taxes for education.

“The concentration of eligible students in such communities underscores the challenges (the program) could pose in terms of adequately funding all students’ educations,” the group said.

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. To qualify, parents would have to have a household income less than or equal to 300 percent of the federal poverty limit, live in an underperforming school district, have a child with an individual education plan or tried unsuccessfully to enroll a child in a charter school or get an education tax credit. The money would flow through a nonprofit scholarship organization that would keep 5 percent for administrative costs.