From our perspective, the central event of the week was the hearing before the House Finance Committee regarding SB 193, the bill remove funds from public schools in order to fund home-schoolers and those sending children to private and religious schools. The focus of the hearing was on the financial implications of the bill, not the policy itself, and after four hours of testimony it was rather clear the proposal will force the State and local taxpayers to foot the bill through new or increased taxes.
The hearing featured a leading advocate of the bill understating the number of students eligible for the funding along with vague optimistic prognostications from a national organization supportive of “educational savings accounts” (i.e., laundered public money). The overwhelming number of witnesses, including a parade of school superintendents and school board members, testified that SB 193 will have a far more significant impact on budgets than is claimed by SB 193 proponents. As noted by Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, virtually all NH students could be eligible and the claimed estimate of a 1-2% rate of participation is contradicted by the historical experience of other states with similar programs, where participation rates ranged between 5% and 8.4% of students. You can read the full report at the following link, Virtually every student in New Hampshire could be eligible for a grant from the SB 193 voucher program- 1-17-18. AFT-NH’s own report, Following the Wrong Path: What Can Education Savings Account Programs In Other States Tell New Hampshire About SB 193? 1-16-18, submitted to the Finance Committee, confirms this comparative data, and further agrees with many witnesses who testified to the nearly total lack of public accountability regarding how such monies would be spent or recouped if misspent by parents or private schools. SB 193 places the entire handling of the savings accounts, accountability and audits in the hands of a private entity based in New York, an entity which earns more money by encouraging more families to participate. It is, as some have pointed out, a case of “the fox guarding the hen-house.” The goal of sponsors is to remove as much public involvement as possible, in order to circumvent the NH Constitution’s prohibition on expending public funds to support religious schools.
The Finance Committee will hold a working session on SB 193 next week (Tuesday, January 23 at 1 pm in LOB 209), and it is expected that at that time the Legislative Budget Office will have developed enrollment projections going out 13 years. The purpose is to estimate costs once the program is fully underway, with student cohorts in all twelve grades and kindergarten. This estimate will likely carry great weight with the Finance Committee and ultimately with the Legislature and will play a major role in determining the immediate fate of this measure. We will keep you informed.
This past week also featured a brief hearing on HB 1415, which would establish a $100,000 death benefit payable to the family or estate of school personnel killed in the line of duty. AFT-NH testified in favor of the bill, noting that like law enforcement and fire fighters, this death benefit would be for those giving their lives to protect the lives of other citizens, the students we entrust to their care. You can read the testimony here. As with the death benefits provided to law enforcement and to fire fighters, we hope the money is never expended, but to provide it is to demonstrate the State’s respect for those who put their lives on the line on behalf of others. The bill will likely undergo some technical amendments before the Executive Departments and Administration Committee takes it up again at the end of the month.
Looking ahead, the proposal barring payroll deductions for union dues (HB 438) will come to the House floor on February 7 and a similar proposal barring any payroll deductions for non-governmental entities will be heard in committee on February 13. The latter would end deductions for union dues, AFLAC, United Way, and any other deductions for organizations that are non-governmental. Both proposals are aimed squarely at public sector labor unions and serve no purpose other than making life more difficult for labor unions. They are companion proposals to the so-called “right to work” legislation killed in the House last year, and must be fought with equal vigor and intensity.
There are also a number of pending bills that would affect the NH Retirement System. HB 1756 would provide the first COLA increase for retirees in many years, but in a recent hearing it appeared there was little likelihood of passage, at least in its current form. Another bill, HB 1754, would establish a state-defined contribution retirement plan, completely up-ending the current system and contradicting the majority recommendations of the recent Decennial Commission. That bill will have its initial committee hearing on January 31. Finally, there is also a group of bills that will eventually be heard before the Education Committee regarding assessment and the determination of an “adequate education.” It is not unlikely that these bills, taken as a package, are designed to create a pathway to opt out of public schools yet retain public funding, an alternative pathway in case SB 193 does not pass muster. We will continue to watch these bills closely and update you in the upcoming weeks as the NH Legislature continues on its twisted pathway through the 2018 session.
AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 1-19-2018