There are 122 participating students for the 2016-2017 school year, far less than 1% of all NH students. There are 179,721 K through 12 public school students in NH and 14,442 in public charter schools, ( NH DOE) There are also 352 private schools in NH serving 31,022 students. The main scholarship organization is the NH Children’s Scholarship Fund. According to NH Kids Count, as of 2014, the "budget amount" of the annual maximum business tax credits increased in total allowable donations from $4 million to $6 million, potentially $10 million in diverted revenue.
The NH ACLU sued to overturn NH’s Education Tax Credit in 2013: "One of the clearest principles of our state constitution is that taxpayer dollars cannot be used to fund religious education. Part II, Article 83 and Part I, Article 6 plainly affirm that “no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools or institutions of any religious sect or denomination” and that “no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination....Unfortunately, the Education Tax Credit Program undermines these sacred constitutional principles. Under this complex government-subsidy program, businesses receive an 85% tax credit for donations made to K-12 “scholarship organizations,” which pay for tuition at religious and other private schools. In short, rather than paying their taxes to the state, businesses will instead be able to direct money owed to the state toward religious education." In essence, tax credits are public funds.
The ACLU suit in Superior Court was successful when the judge ruled that the law would violate the constitution by sending public tax dollars to religious schools. That decision was overturned by the NH Supreme court in 2014, but it did not decide the issue. It ruled that the program's challengers lacked authority to bring the suit because they failed to show how the program specifically affects them. It did not decide the basic issue.
According to NH DRA, these are the 128 scholarships awarded in 2015, the last year reported:
At least 82 of the 128 scholarships went to religious based schools.
I have no objection to parents choosing to send their children to a faith based school.
I went to Catholic schools from K through 12. Free public school was available, but my parents chose to enroll us in the parish elementary school and enrolled me in a Catholic high school. No scholarships or education credits paid for it. They skimped and saved and made their choices without any public assistance. That same school choice is still an option here in NH. I also support charitable organizations that offer support for needy families that don’t have the financial means to enroll their children in private schools.
I just don’t support the government paying for it under the notion of “ education choice” and diverting revenue and support from our public schools.
Karey Hardwood a public schools advocate quoted in SALON said: “When they talk about choice, whose choices are they referring to? Are the children of people who are savvy enough to get out of the public schools the only children who are worth educating in our society? What happens to the children who don’t get out? It seems the [people behind School Choice Week] knowingly embrace the idea of creating a second tier of schools for those American citizens who don’t or can’t ‘choose’ – and they are perfectly okay with a divided society of winners and losers.” She went on to say : “rather than strengthen a weakened public school system because we believe in public schools as the foundation of a democratic society, the solution is to abandon public schools altogether, let them deteriorate, and replace them with alternative private schools and charter schools that can claim they cater to every possible parental preference.”
Right now, the number of families choosing to apply for the vouchers is minuscule and not impacting the state budget. Interesting too is the very small amount of money donated by NH businesses to the scholarship non-profits. The NH Supreme Court did not rule on the basic question, but I suspect that if the revenue flow approaches what was budgeted ($6 million per year) it may once again end up in the courts.
Vouchers shift limited state funds away from public school districts, and downshift the cost of reduced adequacy payments to local communities and property tax payers. The voucher program allows a radical out of state group like American’s for Prosperity, bent on the destruction of public education, to determine the use of our public education funds.
I know that my Moultonboro School Board meets the first Tuesday of the month. They run for office and we vote them in or out. If some of our tax dollars go to a school out of town we lose some local control of how our school property tax is spent.
Far better for the vast majority of students in NH is for Concord to work toward improving public education for all of New Hampshire and not attempt to dismantle it piecemeal.