New Hampshire House Votes to Back $3,000 School Voucher Bill
CONCORD (AP) — The New Hampshire House gave preliminary approval to a school voucher bill on Wednesday, taking a significant step toward allowing public money to be used for private school tuition.
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 on Wednesday to send it on to its Finance Committee.
Opponents argued that the bill siphons money from public schools and sends it to private schools that can discriminate against children with disabilities, requires participants to give up their right to special education services, puts oversight and accountability in the hands of a private organization that would administer the scholarships and violates the state constitution. Supporters argued that it simply returns money to taxpayers who should decide which school best fits the needs of their children and would have minimal impact on districts that lose students.
"What it's all about is an age old paradigm or belief of our country: competition and opportunity," said Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill. "We have an education system in this state where we have many fine public schools, but from top down, from Washington, D.C., to Concord, the establishment has overregulated this industry, this business ... and every child doesn't fit into the business mold. What we need to is provide opportunity for children. Competition is good, not just for the private school but for the public school."
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.
Rep. Terry Wolf, R-Bedford, said the bill isn't an attack on public education, it's "an alternative, an outlet for the student who needs something else."
Rep. Mel Myler, D-Hopkinton, said as a father who sent one child to public school and one to a private school, he believes in school choice. But he doesn't support the bill.
"It is the parental choice of where the child goes to school," Myler said. "However, I do not believe the general public should pay for that choice through public tax dollars."
Fellow Democrat Tamara Le, of North Hampton, said those tax dollars especially shouldn't go to religious schools that are allowed to discriminate against students with disabilities. She also raised concerns that parents who receive the funding may not realize that such children don't have the same right to special education services if they are moved to private schools.
"I've heard the argument that the bill is not meant for every child," she said. "Is that what we as lawmakers want our limited tax dollars to do, pit one needy child and family against another?"