By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan is one of many educators strongly against a school voucher bill that will be heard in a New Hampshire House committee Wednesday.
Proponents say it would inject needed competition into the educational arena, while giving parents additional choices on how best to educate their children.
Senate Bill 193 would give parents state funding to teach their children at home or to send them to private schools.
“It's a mechanism that purposefully or not would divert funds from public schools,” Minnihan said.
The bill, which has passed the Senate, would allow parents who work with an approved scholarship organization to receive 90 percent of the state's per pupil adequate education grant, which is more than $3,000.
If students leave public schools and enter private schools, funding to public schools would decrease, while many costs would likely stay the same, Minnihan said.
Proponents say that if a school has fewer students, its costs would decrease, but Minnihan said that unless there was a major migration of students from a particular grade in a school, the number of teachers would likely have to stay constant. Other costs like utility bills and transportation would also stay fixed.
Minnihan said public schools are to be valued and adequately supported.
“Public schools are important for promoting democracy and getting along with people from different socio-economic groups, religions and demographics,” he said. “Public schools have an important connection to the community. Not to say other schools don't have community, but it may not be one attached to your town.”
He also said that schools are equipped with options that can give children many of the educational choices that might be sought in a private education.
Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, the bill's author, said the measure would improve education outcomes.
“What we know nationwide is that any time you create any type of competition in education, you get a better product,” he said. “By introducing competition, you'll get better-trained students. This has happened all around the country, and test scores in nearby public schools have increased.”
He disputes the notion that public schools would lose money.
“I don't know how that would happen,” he said. “You get that argument from the teachers union, but if a child moves out of state now, that doesn't harm a public school. It's not designed to have any effect on the public school. This would assist families in sending their child wherever they wish.”
Rep. Joe Pitre, R-Farmington, the bill's House author, said the measure empowers parents.
“Parents have a fundamental right to determine the education and upbringing of their children,” he said.
He said it's important to increase educational options to deal with the specific needs of students.
“As human beings, we're not all the same,” Pitre said.
Any financial effects on public schools would be minimal, he said.
Reaching Higher NH, a group that supports public schools, put out an analysis paper on the legislation that concluded taxes would need to be raised to make up for lost funds to public education.
“Our analysis shows that rural or property-poor municipalities would be disproportionately impacted by SB 193,” the group said in an analysis paper. “Berlin, for example, would need to raise taxes by 12 cents (per $1,000 in equalized valuation) in order to compensate for the loss of state aid should approximately 1 percent of its students choose a voucher; Moultonborough, in contrast, would only need to raise its local taxes by $1.01 to compensate for 1 percent of its students choosing a voucher.”