NH and PA School Choice Efforts Hit Snags

The latest effort to have school choice legislation passed in New Hampshire has failed after Governor John Lynch vetoed the bill after it was passed by legislators. The law, called “School Choice Scholarship Act,” brings to a halt a two-year effort by supporters to put in place a voucher program in the state. In the message accompanying the veto, Lynch said that he thought the introduction of vouchers would harm the overall quality of public education in NH and shift the cost burden of education the state’s kids onto local governments and communities.

The law would have allowed businesses to receive tax credits for donations to non-profit scholarship funds, that would award low-income children up to $2,500 to apply towards tuition at private schools of their choice.

Lynch said the bill did not do enough to offset the costs to public school districts when students leave for private schools, taking adequacy payments with them. Lynch said the bill would cost school districts more than $3.6 million in the first year and more each year after, according to Department of Education calculations.

This bill “will downshift the cost of reduced adequacy payments to local communities and property tax payers, it allows private organizations to determine the use of public education funds, and does not fully target scholarship funds to students most in need of help with tuition and other educational expenses,” said Lynch in his veto statement.

Meanwhile, in The Wall Street Journal, David Feith calls the Pennsylvania legislature’s continuing failure to pass a voucher bill of their own, “Keystone State Kop-Out,”and says that the lawmakers are running scared of the teachers’ unions ahead of the November elections. Last October, the state Senate passed a version of a voucher legislation, with broad bipartisan support, that would have allowed more than half a million low-income students, attending the bottom 5% of the state’s schools, to receive the scholarships and attend a school of their choice within the next three years. But neither the House Speaker Sam Smith, nor the House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai have taken steps to have the bill brought before their own chamber, even though both claim to be strong supporters of school choice in PA.

While it sits idle, Pennsylvania public schools still have a 20% dropout rate, including 50% of blacks and Hispanics and 50% of all kids in Philadelphia. Half of 11th-graders aren’t proficient in reading and math. And money’s not the issue: Spending soared nearly 70% between 2000 and 2010 (to $25.8 billion from $15.3 billion), with the system gaining a net 33,000 employees despite losing 27,000 students.

Although a comprehensive voucher bill is now unlikely to reach Governor Tom Corbett’s desk this year, a compromise version, which would give businesses up to $200 in tax breaks for donating to scholarship organizations. Currently, the state places a $75 million limit on the total amount of tax credits businesses can receive for their donations.