By Christian Wade
(The Center Square) – A push to expand private school options for students in New Hampshire has been dealt a major blow after a legislative committee voted to table to issue for the next year.
On Thursday, the House Education Committee voted 20-0 to “retain” a bill that seeks to create “education savings accounts” to cover costs for students who want to leave public schools to attend private, parochial and charter schools or receive home schooling. The vote essentially means lawmakers won’t be taking up the proposal this year.
House Bill 20 is named after the late-House Speaker Richard “Dick” Hinch, who died from COVID-19 a week after he was sworn into office. Hinch was a staunch supporter of the proposal.
But the move has faced pushback from Democrats, teachers’ unions and even some Republicans who say it will hurt traditional public schools. The education committee received a petition signed by more than 6,000 people who oppose the measure.
State Rep. Mel Myler, D-Concord, the Education Committee’s ranking Democrat, called the proposal an “attack” on the state’s education system that would cut funding for public schools.
“It contains no protections against discrimination, little oversight, and is ripe for fraud,” she said in a statement. “There has never been as much vocal opposition to a piece of legislation in New Hampshire as we have seen on this bill, and for good reason.”
The state has a tax credit program, created in 2012, that provides scholarships for public school students who want to attend private schools or get home-schooled. But advocates say the program doesn’t go far enough to meet the demand, and only covers a portion of the expenses. The average grant in the 2019-20 school year was about $2,800.
Under the proposal, the public school dollars would essentially follow K-12 students if they decided to attend private or charter schools. The proposal would authorize annual grants of up to $4,597 per student. The state currently spends about $3,800 per student. Most cities and towns supplement the spending with local property tax revenue.
The state Department of Education projects the expansion of vouchers will save the state between $360 million to 393 million over the next decade.
Republicans have filed similar proposals in the past all of which have been blocked by Democrats who were in control of the Legislature until the Nov. 3 elections.
House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, put the proposal is at the top of his agenda for the Republican-controlled House this year.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has also supported educational accounts but hasn’t made a major push for the latest iteration of the legislation.
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.