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AFT-NH President Ley Testifies Against SB 193 To House Finance Committee

(January 16, 2018) Below is the full submitted testimony of AFT-NH President Douglas Ley on SB 193:

Let me begin by offering my thanks to the Committee Chair and to the Finance Committee for taking the time to hear my testimony.

For the record: Douglas Ley, representing District 9-Cheshire County, towns of Dublin, Harrisville, Jaffrey, & Roxbury. In addition, I am here as president of American Federation of Teachers-NH, and have filed the requisite paperwork with the Legislative Ethics Office.

Speaking on behalf of myself and the 4,000 members of AFT-NH, I come before you in opposition to SB193. The written report provided to you focuses upon financial aspects of SB193 and places the proposed program into a broader national context by looking at its financial provisions as compared to those in other states with similar Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). You can read the report by clicking the link Following the Wrong Path.

Based upon the comparison between SB193 and similar programs in five other states, the report concludes that “NH should expect similar taxpayer and academic accountability problems as these states.” Without going over the report in detail (I am confident the Committee will do its due diligence), let me simply highlight a few salient points:

  1. SB193 eligibility requirements closely mirror those in AZ (esp. prior to very recent amendments there), but unlike AZ and other states, there is no requirement in SB193 for prior public school enrollment as a condition of eligibility. Thus, NH can expect similar student loss from public schools and the accompanying costs as occurred in AZ.
  2. Funding formulas across states with ESAs are generally similar. In AZ there was a 10-fold increase in costs between 2012-15, and the losses estimated by Reaching Higher NH are in line with experiences in other states.
  3. On the issue of financial accountability, AZ’s Attorney General just two years ago found that in one six-month period, there was over $100,000 in misspent funds. Under SB193, there is only very limited public financial accountability—instead, accountability is outsourced to the same private entity earning money from the program. In addition, there is no requirement for posting of surety bonds or other insurance by private providers, to ensure that private schools or providers would have enough money to reimburse the State for any misused funds. Ultimately, SB193 lacks even rudimentary public financial accountability standards, to say nothing of the very meager academic accountability standards.

Other witnesses will undoubtedly go into great detail on specific estimated costs to the State and to local property tax payers in order to fund SB193 while maintaining our constitutional duty to education and our social contract commitment to public schools and public education. Allow me to close by noting two additional items:

First, let me draw your attention to a letter from the Superintendent of the Monadnock Regional School District, which includes one of the towns I represent. In that letter sent to you on Monday, January 15, the Superintendent expresses her clear concerns over the financial impact on the Monadnock District of anywhere from $83,000 to $172,000 in lost State aid to the District. What is not said in that letter is that this is a District that has faced very difficult budget battles over the past five years and the likelihood of those budget wars continuing for the near future.

Second, you also received a letter from the president of the Nashua Teachers Union (NTU), who could not attend this hearing today due to conflicting commitments. In that letter, NTU president Adam Marcoux reviews their objections to SB193, pointing to Nashua’s loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in State funds if SB193 becomes law. His conclusion regarding SB193’s financial impact is succinct and pointed: It “sounds like a state property tax increase, in addition to the anticipated local property tax increases.”

At a time when this committee has already rejected a number of other policy proposals on grounds that State funds are simply not available, I ask that the Committee reject SB193 as financially unsound for the State of New Hampshire and as an expenditure of public funds with virtually no public accountability. For localities, this will entail further downshifting of costs onto local taxpayers in order to provide public funds to those who choose of their own volition to send their children to private or home schools. This is not a proper use of public funds, unregulated, unaudited, and certain to result in tax increases. I ask that you therefore reject SB193 and vote to recommend ITL.

[Note: The entire written testimony is provided but actual testimony was abbreviated due to time constraints and to avoid duplicate testimony. Per President Ley, many school boards, school board members, superintendents and policy experts tore into the bill in great and meticulous detail. AFT-NH applauds their efforts.]

 

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin: Vouchers, Paycheck Deception, and State Retirements

The NH Legislature managed to meet one day this past week, but Thursday’s snowstorm and the bitter cold led to the cancellation of Thursday’s scheduled House session. Instead, the House will convene this Tuesday, January 9, to continue working through the remaining retained bills from 2017. Although an additional session day on Thursday, January 11 is possible, most expect the House to finish retained bills on the 9th and then commence committee hearings on 2018 bills.

SB 193
The big news this past week was House passage of Senate Bill 193 as amended , the bill establishing so-called “education freedom savings accounts.” In simple terms, the bill takes funds normally distributed by the State to local school districts and places the money into accounts that can be used by parents who home-school or choose to send their children to private (including religious) schools. The NH Constitution explicitly prohibits expending public funds in support of religious schools, so the “education freedom savings accounts” are an attempt to bypass that prohibition. As one House member noted in debate, these accounts will act as a pass-through system, or in more direct language, as a “money-laundering” system to render public revenues into non-public money and thereby circumvent the state’s Constitution.

Funding for SB 193 will come directly from the state’s Education Trust Fund, thereby reducing the funds made available to local districts. The consequence will be less money to many districts, with estimates ranging well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for districts such as Manchester and Nashua (look here for conservative cost estimates put forward by Reaching Higher NH Analysis, December 6, 2017). Local taxpayers will have to pick up the tab, meaning SB 193 will increase local property taxes, all to subsidize those who choose to home-school or opt for private schools. Moreover, the entire program, its assessment and accountability of how funds are spent will NOT be handled by the State but by a private organization based in New York. Given that the organization’s “take” will increase in direct proportion to the number of parents using these “Education freedom savings accounts,” one can only wonder at the potential conflicts-of-interest when this same organization is charged with monitoring expenditures and assessing effectiveness.

SB 193 now goes to the House Finance Committee where a hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 1:30pm. Ultimately, SB193 will come to the House floor for at least one more vote, this time to consider any amendments and the recommendation of the Finance Committee. So stay tuned for breaking news and action requests. You are encouraged to contact the members of the House Finance committee by sending a quick email by clicking this link House Finance Committee and let them know your concerns about SB 193 and ask them to recommend Inexpedient to Legislate.

Red Alert HB 438 Paycheck Deception
There are two bills of great concern to AFT-NH coming to the floor for votes on Tuesday, January 9. The most important is HB 438, which would prohibit public employers from withholding union dues, which is standard practice across the public sector. Withholding dues imposes no costs on public employers and is no different than withholding money on behalf of charitable organizations such as the United Way. The bill came before the Labor Committee in Spring 2017 but no testimony was offered in favor of the bill and the committee ultimately voted unanimously and in a bipartisan manner to recommend that the House kill the bill (Inexpedient to Legislate). It has been taken from the Consent calendar where it would have been expeditiously dealt with last week and will come up for debate and a vote this Tuesday. It is vitally important that you contact your legislator and urge a ‘yes’ vote to sustain the Labor Committee’s unanimous and bipartisan recommendation. The bill performs no useful public service and is simply designed to punish public sector labor unions representing law enforcement officials, teachers, town, county and state employees. Again, please urge your representatives to sustain the Labor Committee’s recommendation on HB 438 by taking this One-Click Action.

HB 413 State Retirement Obligation
Finally, HB 413 will come to a vote on Tuesday in the House. As previously noted, this bill would require the State to begin meeting its promise to help contribute to the retirement system on behalf of municipal, town and school district employees. The NH House on February 15, 2017 voted Ought to Pass by an overwhelming vote of 267-83 and referred it on to the House Finance Committee. Funding for this did not occur in the state budget. When towns, counties and school districts joined the NH Retirement System, the State promised to pay 40% of the cost of contributions, but for the past six years, the State has paid 0% of the costs. Yes, nothing. HB 513 would have the State pay 15% to local communities which would be a great relief to local property taxpayers. The House Finance Committee has recommended Inexpedient to Legislate by a 17-9 vote. Yet this is the same Legislature that is somehow going to find money to make up the losses in local school districts stemming from SB 193? We hope HB 413 passes on Tuesday, but the bigger lesson is to not trust promises of any future payments by the Legislature, because it is a record of repeated broken promises. Perhaps a note to your legislators asking them to do their job and represent their local communities and provide some necessary property tax relief by supporting this bill might be helpful. To email your representative, you can click Contact Your Representative, find your town and send an email to your representative.

Stay warm and let’s all enjoy the higher temperatures predicted for the end of the week. Our January thaw is on the way!

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

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