Private school tuition credits hurt public education
To the editor:
I have taught both special education and elementary education in New Hampshire for 37 years. I have also worked in the development of testing programs. I think our rigorous New Hampshire testing programs have helped advance student achievement, and the new common core standards and tests will promote student achievement even more.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a flawed and unfunded law, and it is the reason most states are asking for waivers. It declares that the majority of schools in New Hampshire and the rest of the country are in need of improvement. Yet, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), New Hampshire ranks ninth in education nationally, albeit down from fifth a few years ago. Most likely this is due to the fact that in the past few years local education budgets have been severely cut. New Hampshire schools have always performed well in comparison to the rest of the nation, and our neighbor, Massachusetts is ranked first in the nation.
Republicans with the House Republican Alliance (HRA) want to keep the tax credits for businesses who offer scholarships for parents who choose to send their children to private schools. This includes people who choose to home school their children. The scholarship amount is limited to a maximum of $2,500 per child per year. About 40 percent (less than half) of these scholarships go to low-income families.
Now, this sounds like a good idea. But let’s do some math to see who it helps the most. The average cost of private elementary schools in New Hampshire is $6,328 per year and the average high school tuition is $9,302 per year. You do not have to be a low-income family to receive this scholarship. Assuming a typical family has two children, how would a low-income family come up with the $7,000 to $13,000 additional dollars per year for the remainder of the tuition? Can these be truly low-income families? The majority of families who benefit from this are not low-income. It’s even better if you own a business, get the tax credit, and have your child get the scholarship too!
Our state and local tax dollars support public education. We still need to pay for public schools. But with the tax credits our tax revenue will be diverted to private schools and home schoolers, lowering the state’s contributions and ultimately raising our taxes. This is a tax increase in disguise!
Republicans believe that these low-income families would benefit from some competition among schools. They say that the scholarship program “allows students of lower income families to leave their failing school for a successful public or private school of their parent’s choice.” But what determines whether a school is successful or failing? NCLB law requires that by 2014, 100 percent of students be proficient in reading, writing and math. According to NCLB, 72 percent of New Hampshire schools are in need of improvement. But most people don’t know what this means. If any portion of a school’s population doesn’t make their target for growth the entire school is deemed as failing.
So, how do our private schools rank with NCLB? They don’t! They don’t have to take the tests or meet AYP, so there is no way to determine if they might also be labeled as “failing schools.”
Money for new charter schools has also been put on hold until 2015. But why is this a bad thing in a down economy? Why start new schools when student enrollments are down in New Hampshire? A new charter school was recently opened in Salem. Its focus is on the arts. If I had a child with talents in this area I would be happy to have this choice. But is it a good way to spend public tax dollars? All the research points to the need for students to focus on math and science careers. If we are going to use tax dollars to build or start charter schools, let’s make sure they are built on sound ideas that will benefit both the students and the economy.
If Republicans, Democrats, and independents want more than an “adequate” education for New Hampshire students and demand an “excellent” education for everyone, they can start with supporting local school budgets and fund state education programs as well. Research shows that class size matters in student achievement. Reducing class sizes in crowded schools and districts is a good place to start!
Senators ignore public on background checks
To the editor:
Background checks help keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Background checks help keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Background checks help keep guns out of the hands of angry people who are under a restraining order. Background checks help save the lives of innocent men, women and children. Background checks help keep guns in the hands of responsible, rational people — the “good guys.” Some 90 percent of the people in America want expanded background checks on gun purchases.
The senators who voted against the Toomey-Manchin compromise in the U.S. Senate which would have done just that — including our own Kelly Ayotte, the only “no” vote in New England — do not care about gun safety and are not representing the people. They have bowed to the will of the National Rifle Association, gun manufacturers and gun sellers.
The best way to reduce the NRA’s out of control power will be to vote out of office as many of its cowering subjects as possible so that reason and common sense will prevail once again.
We have a right to live in safety and without fear in our daily lives.