Attacking education: Don’t let state lawmakers turn tax money into subsidies for private schools

Our public schools are far from perfect, but by almost any objective measure, they are pretty good. Year after year, New Hampshire ranks among the top handful of states in educational attainment and quality of schools, sometimes even winding up No. 1.

The biggest flaw in our educational system, in fact, is that maintaining it puts too great a financial burden on taxpayers in some communities, while in wealthier cities and towns, taxpayers get off relatively easy.

Yet since last Nov. 8, the state’s public schools have been under attack, and sadly, those attacks have come from the Statehouse. Last spring, Senate lawmakers, in a strictly partisan vote, passed Senate Bill 193, a truly terrible would-be law that aims to allow parents to use public education funds to pay private school tuitions.

Because the state Constitution prohibits using tax dollars for religious schools, SB 193 pulls what Rep. Marjorie Porter of Hillsboro calls a magic trick, turning public money private. As she explained in February, SB 193 hinges on allowing the creation of so-called “education freedom savings accounts.”

“Parents open one of these accounts with the scholarship organization,” she explained. “The state then gives 95 percent of state adequacy aid per child to the organization. The organization keeps 5 percent and deposits the other 90 percent into the parents’ account. And presto-chango! Like magic, my taxpayer dollars, your taxpayer dollars, are changed into private funds, for any educational expenses, including religious schools.”

As she also noted, if this switcheroo sounds familiar, it’s because it’s what prosecutors call “money-laundering.”

But it gets worse. SB 193’s real danger isn’t that some parents might choose to use the money for religion-based schools. It’s that if enough parents choose to use it at all, our public schools would be devastated. The bill would make that 90 percent of adequacy aid — about $3,205 — available to parents of home-schooled children, those in charter schools and, eventually, all private-school students.

That could result, according to former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Mark Fernald of Sharon, in a loss of up to $63 million from state education aid to local public schools.

As Porter noted, most Granite State private schools have tuitions far higher than the $3,205 they’d be getting from taxpayers, so those taking advantage of the “education freedom” accounts would be, primarily, wealthy families that can afford such payments. In other words, taxpayers would simply be subsidizing private school for the rich.

And even if several thousand New Hampshire students move to private schools, the burden of funding public ones won’t change. Local taxpayers will still have to provide public education. And with up to $63 million of state aid missing, their taxes will be even higher.

Senate Bill 193 is an unconscionable attack on public education and Granite State taxpayers. It’s now back off the table and in the hands of the House Education Committee.

Let your representatives know you’d rather the state pay its share of public schools than to magically turn your tax money into a scholarship for wealthy parents sending their kids to private schools.