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