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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

Download and share the PDF here. 

Republicans Ram Through Unconstitutional School Voucher Bill

The House of Representatives voted today to pass SB 193, legislation establishing a school voucher program allowing parents to use Education Trust Fund dollars to subsidize tuition to private schools including religious institutions.

House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) released the following statement after the vote:

“Simply put, this bill is an unconstitutional attempt to weaken confidence in public education and reduce funding to public schools.”

“Because funding for this program will come directly from the Education Trust Fund, the total amount distributed to school districts throughout the state will be reduced.  To participate in the program, parents of children with disabilities must waive their right to special education and related services.”

“This legislation was written to deliberately circumvent the New Hampshire Constitution, which clearly and distinctly prohibits the use of tax dollars for religious education.  The pass-through scheme concocted by this bill is an embarrassment to the founders of this great state.”

NHDP Chair Ray Buckley issued the following statement:

“Governor Sununu’s SB193 school voucher bill is an irresponsible, fundamentally unfair bill that violates our obligation to treat all students equally. It means private and religious schools that are under no obligation to follow state or federal education standards would receive our taxpayer dollars. It means students with disabilities would be subject to schools that are ill-equipped to take on their unique challenges. It means that parents of transgender students would have to give their taxpayer money to schools that ban their children.

The bill promises additional revenue to make up for the losses public schools would inevitably incur, but we’ve yet to see where this money will come from. Will Sununu and the Republicans raise our taxes just to give more money to private and religious schools or will they take money away from crucial services that so many depend on? SB193 is a key part of Governor Sununu & Commissioner Frank Edelblut’s attempt to overhaul the New Hampshire education system, moving the focus away from public schools. They should focus instead on growing and strengthening our public schools to make sure every student has a chance to succeed.”

AFT-NH’s President Doug Ley released the following after yesterday’s vote:

“Despite a powerful speech by Rep. Robert Elliott denouncing the bill as in clear violation of Article 6 of the NH Constitution which explicitly bars spending public monies on religious or sectarian schools, a majority composed almost entirely of House Republicans took a major step towards dismantling the State’s commitment to funding public education. By siphoning public tax revenues into private schools SB193 erodes the State’s commitment to maintaining and providing a quality public education to all children and sets up a separate system of funding for private schools. With all assessment and accountability left in the hands of a private agency that also handles transferring public monies to private schools via “Education Savings Accounts,” the incentive to rake in more revenue by ignoring any serious assessment or accountability is clear. It is a case of the fox guarding the henhouse and ultimately, local taxpayers will bear the additional costs.

“SB193 now moves to the Finance Committee, which must somehow figure a way to fund the program without local property tax increases or raising additional State revenues. As one member of the Finance Committee noted on the House floor, SB193 is a jumble of half-baked financial schemes and unanswered financial questions which will pose great challenges for the committee. There is no clear timeline, though the committee will need to report the bill to the House no later than March 2018.”

AFT-NH’s Statement On The House Passage Of SB 193 (School Voucher Bill)

AFT-NH President Douglas Ley released the following statement about the January 3 vote in the NH House on SB193, the so-called “voucher” bill

“AFT-NH and all supporters of public education in New Hampshire are grievously disappointed with yesterday’s initial House vote on SB193. By a margin of 184-162, the House gave initial approval to this grievously flawed bill, sending it on to the Finance Committee for further examination before bringing it back to the floor for a final vote.

“Despite a powerful speech by Rep. Robert Elliott denouncing the bill as in clear violation of Article 6 of the NH Constitution which explicitly bars spending public monies on religious or sectarian schools, a majority composed almost entirely of House Republicans took a major step towards dismantling the State’s commitment to funding public education. By siphoning public tax revenues into private schools SB193 erodes the State’s commitment to maintaining and providing a quality public education to all children and sets up a separate system of funding for private schools. With all assessment and accountability left in the hands of a private agency that also handles transferring public monies to private schools via “Education Savings Accounts,” the incentive to rake in more revenue by ignoring any serious assessment or accountability is clear. It is a case of the fox guarding the henhouse and ultimately, local taxpayers will bear the additional costs.

“SB193 now moves to the Finance Committee, which must somehow figure a way to fund the program without local property tax increases or raising additional State revenues. As one member of the Finance Committee noted on the House floor, SB193 is a jumble of half-baked financial schemes and unanswered financial questions which will pose great challenges for the committee. There is no clear timeline, though the committee will need to report the bill to the House no later than March 2018.”

The people at Advancing New Hampshire Public Education posted the full roll call votes, here.

Guest Editorial: SB 193 Will Increase Costs On Local Schools Resulting In Higher Property Taxes For You

Op-Ed by Kathy Staub

When the NH House reconvenes on January 3, one of the first bills they take up will be SB 193- a school voucher bill. I could argue that the bill is bad because vouchers are a significant weapon in the extreme right’s assault on public schools, teachers, and knowledge in general. I could also point out that this bill undermines our NH Constitution which explicitly states that no public money should go to religious schools. However, I think I will just stick to the cost. This bill will cost millions of tax dollars, expand the burden on taxpayers, and yield no return on our investment.

If this bill passes here is what we have to look forward to:

Under this bill the student’s state education adequacy grant will be taken from the school district and sent to the parents. The basic grant is $3,600 per student and about $5,000 if the child is eligible for free or reduced lunch. The money can be used to fund private or religious school tuition or cover the expenses of homeschooling. Most people understand that if 2 children leave a school the costs of running it stays the same. You still need to heat the building and have the same number of teachers, but now you have $7,200 – $10,000 less to pay for it.

In order to address the potential effects of these shortfalls, the NH House Education Committee added a stabilization grant to the bill. If the amount of money a school district loses exceeds ¼ of 1% of the district’s budget, then the school district would be compensated by the state for lost revenue. In Manchester’s case that means we, the taxpayers, would only need to make up the first $432,000 before the stabilization grant kicks in. Only 4-5 students from each school would need to apply for vouchers to reach this threshold. Once we reach that level, the state would provide a stabilization grant for 5 years. If you are wondering where the money to fund these stabilization grants is going to come from, look in the mirror. The money for this will likely come from the statewide property tax. For every voucher beyond the ¼ of 1% you and I get to pay twice – once to the parents and once to the school district.

The other really frightening thing about SB 193 is that the costs are potentially limitless. New Hampshire currently has a limited voucher program which is funded by voluntary contributions from businesses that receive a tax credit in exchange for their contributions. When the money runs out, so do the vouchers.

Under this bill anyone making less than $73,800 for a family of 4, or $86,100 for a family of 5 would be eligible, and you don’t have to take a child out of public school to get it. If you have a Kindergartner or 1st grader you were planning to enroll in a private school and you meet the income requirements, you could apply for a voucher and receive it. The voucher is renewable every year, so you can see how 5 years down the road a significant number of students in private schools will be supported by public tax dollars without any corresponding decline in public school enrollment.

Also, we currently do not subsidize families who home school. Under SB 193 we will. A NH person who works full time at minimum wage ($7.25) makes $14,500 a year. A homeschooling family with 3 children that meets the eligibility requirement for free and reduced lunch will receive a $15,000 check from the state to cover homeschooling expenses. Mind you, these are the same people who want to impose work requirements for food stamps and Medicaid expansion because, “We need to get more people into the workforce.”

The bill does include some accountability for homeschooling. In 2012 our state legislature removed any accountability requirements for homeschooling. However, if you want that cash, you need to provide a curriculum and check in with a local principal, superintendent of schools or the NH Commissioner of Education to prove that your child is making progress. It is nice that we have finally found a job that Sununu appointed Commissioner Frank Edelblut is qualified for, given that he homeschooled his own 7 children.

When SB 193 came out of the NH Senate it had significant flaws that made it unlikely to pass, so it was referred to the House Education Committee. There is an old saying that two things you never want to see being made are laws and sausages. If most laws are sausages, then this one would better be described as a vile turducken. They took a turkey of a bill and stuffed it with one foul (fowl) amendment after another to try and make it palatable. I wouldn’t touch it with a stick and neither should any of our state legislators. This turducken of a bill is fiscally irresponsible and we should just throw it in the trash.

If you would like to share your own thoughts about this bill with your NH State Representatives, you can find their contact information here.

NEA-NH Comes Out Against SB193, School Voucher Bill

Legislature Plans to Raise Property Taxes by Starving Towns of Millions of Dollars

Concord, NH, December 20, 2017 – NEA-New Hampshire North Country Executive Board Member Jon Dugan-Henriksen released the following statement on SB 193, the Legislature’s disastrous plan to raise local property taxes to benefit well-off private schools.

“Vouchers will divert public tax dollars from schools that need it, to private schools and individuals who will use it with little to no oversight, leaving our state to ensure adequacy with aid money that does not exist,” said Dugan-Henriksen.

“Data from other states show no evidence that vouchers improve student outcomes. In fact, given the opportunity to vote directly on vouchers, voters have overwhelmingly rejected them time and time again.”

“The one common result in states that have adopted vouchers is that they increase cost by requiring the public to fund two separate school systems, one public, and one private,” said Dugan-Henriksen. “This is something that neither the North Country, nor New Hampshire, can afford.”

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 12-13-17: Take Action To Stop SB 193 The School Voucher Bill

Launch of the 2018 Legislative Session   In the natural world, many creatures around us are hunkering down for the winter season and going into hibernation. The Legislature, however, is not governed by ‘Mother Nature’ and since October, the pace of activity in the State House has picked up, with hearings and the election of a new Speaker. Now, as we enter into the Holiday season, the Legislature stands of the cusp of the 2018 session, with our first session scheduled to convene on January 3, 2018. It promises to be a busy session, with hundreds of bills proposed in the House and the Senate, each one assured of a public hearing and a vote in either or both the House and Senate. So it is time to muster your energies and your patience—the 2018 Legislative session is nearly upon us!

Over the past two months, the House and Senate have been increasingly busy, with committees taking up bills retained by them from the 2017 session. Hearings have been held, and these ‘retained bills’ have now been reported out of the committee with recommendations for floor action. With a new Speaker (Gene Chandler) in the chair, the first task of the House this January will be to take up the retained bills from the 2017 session, and all indications are that Speaker Chandler would like all retained bills and business concluded quickly and expeditiously. What this means is that the House will be busy on Wednesday and Thursday after New Year’s (January 3 & 4) and possibly Tuesday, January 9. The aim is to clear away all retained bills, then begin scheduling committee hearings on 2018 bills.

There are two retained bills of immediate concern to AFT-NH. The first is HB 413, which over 100 Republicans joined with Democrats in passing back in February 2017. The bill provides for partial restoration of State payments (15%) into the NH Retirement System on behalf of counties, municipalities and school districts, all of whom joined the NH Retirement System with a promise of a State contribution of between 25% to 40%. In 2011, under Speaker O’Brien, the State completely abandoned all payments and for the last six years, localities and employees have borne the entire cost of paying into the retirement system. HB 413 simply tries to begin restoring the State’s promised commitment, thereby easing the property tax burden upon local taxpayers and freeing up monies in cash-strapped cities, towns and school districts. The bill has now come out of the House Finance Committee with a party-line recommendation that it be killed, thereby reversing the House position of a year ago, and contradicting one of the recommendations of the Decennial Commission appointed this past summer to study and make recommendations regarding the NH Retirement System. Rather than foolishly cut business taxes and create a hole in future NH state budgets, it is time to hold the Legislature accountable and demand that they begin honoring the promise to pay the State’s share into the NH Retirement System.

Defeat SB 193 (school vouchers) Action Needed!  The other retained bill of great concern is SB 193, the “school voucher” bill. Significantly amended in the Education Committee and sent to the House floor by a narrow 10-9 vote, the bill still suffers from the reality that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. From the start, the proposal uses a legal subterfuge to disguise vouchers as educational savings accounts, and things only go downhill from there. As students withdraw from public schools and take State education aid with them, school districts will lose thousands of dollars, monies to be made up by local taxpayers. Remember, if you lose 1 student from each grade, that is approximately $40,000 lost to the district, but you can’t combine classes and grades, services still need to be provided, buildings heated, on and on. SB 193 now claims that at a specific threshold the Legislature will step in and pass appropriations to make up for excessive losses due to vouchers. Really? Look at the history behind HB 413 (see above) and inadequate state education funding to get an idea of the Legislature’s woeful track record in terms of fulfilling such promises.

Will you contact your state representative now and ask them to defeat SB 193? Click here now!

The amended SB 193 also claims to put certain criteria in place to determine eligibility, but the language adopted basically leaves eligibility wide open. Accountability? Virtually none. Private and religious schools will still fall under virtually no serious state regulations and will be free to discriminate against and reject those they deem unworthy or too costly to educate. Home schoolers are now up in arms over increased regulation via SB193, but in fact, the regulation is quite minimal and there will be no effective accountability or transparency regarding how public funds are spent.

Do you believe public funds should support public education? If so, please click this link to contact your state representative and ask them to defeat SB 193. Click Here Now!

Finally, one must confront the question of “Choice for whom?” SB 193 is a public funds giveaway, often bestowed upon those who can already afford private schooling or home schooling, or who live in areas where such schools are available and accessible. It contradicts the basic logic of public schooling– that an educated citizenry is a desired social and political goal, and therefore we all contribute to it, regardless of whether we have children in the schools. Parents may choose to send their children elsewhere or educate them at home, but they are still members of our larger body politic and must equally bear the basic burdens deemed essential and desirable, such as public education. They may choose alternative pathways, but they should not receive public subsidies to do so. Just because I choose not to drive on your road, I still pay my taxes to help to plow it in winter, and just because you choose to live on it, does not entitle you to a special subsidy from public funds.

We need all your help in passing HB 413 and defeating SB 193. We will shortly be sending out another message regarding HB 413 so you can contact your representative directly and ask them to support passage of this bill which will provide some much needed relief to local communities.

Please make sure to contact your state representative and ask them to defeat this unprecedented attack on the more than 180,000 children who attend NH public schools. Click Here Now!

AFT-NH is #PublicSchoolProud and we ask you to join in this effort to protect our public schools.

Thank you.

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley
AFT-NH, President


For legislative updates and news, please like us on Facebook by visiting our page at AFT-NH Facebook or follow us on Twitter @AFTNewHampshire.

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