Charlie Arlinghaus

June 27, 2012

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

In what can only be a sign of the coming of the apocalypse, the single best piece written on school choice over the last year was a Thursday editorial in the normally quite liberal Washington Post. On Veto Day in New Hampshire, legislators ought to ignore the hand-wringing of our current governor and instead read the Post’s article extolling the importance of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The importance of educational opportunity was summed up by the reliably liberal Post: “the opportunity to send their children to better schools — a choice taken for granted by many Americans, including some who are in Congress and the White House — is something beyond measure.”

This one sentence explains why a liberal newspaper would wax poetic about school choice and why many of us in New Hampshire are pushing for a School Choice Scholarship Program. In New Hampshire, rich people have choices, poor people do not. The Post points out that the privileged in Washington — the children of most senators in both parties for example — have a variety of options and rarely are sent to the school assigned by their zip code.

New Hampshire has better public schools than Washington has. Yet no one seriously argues that every school is the best choice for every child in its zip code. Those who have the means are able to make choices. Sometimes they choose the local school, sometimes an alternative school. Families of lesser means are left out.

In their criticism of a very modest school choice program, Gov. John Lynch and his fellow naysayers argue that this is some sort of attempt to “weaken our public school system.” The Post faced similar arguments to the D.C. scholarship program. It points out that “studies have shown its success in boosting graduation rates of its participants, and contrary to the fiction of its critics, it doesn’t drain resources from public education. Giving parents a choice and improving public schools are not mutually exclusive.”

New Hampshire’s program remains a very mild experiment from the standpoint of school budgets. No school district sees any reduction in state aid unless it has fewer students. Even then, its loss is fractional. To alleviate any concern an individual district might have, the total amount of money reduced as a result of this program is capped at a minute 1/4 of 1 percent of its budget. In a state where 5 percent swings in enrollment are commonplace, no one can be expected to believe that 99.75 percent of funding plus the increases every district sees normally is somehow catastrophic.

Opponents also disingenuously claim the scholarships won’t actually help anyone who needs one. The bills are limited to lower-income students. As the governor pointed out last week, “these bills do limit eligibility to students from families at 300 percent of the federal poverty level.” Opponents admit that aid is targeted but claim the scholarship amount — required to average $2,500 — isn’t enough to help with tuition. What they don’t tell you, although surely they know, is that virtually no one pays sticker price for tuition. Every school in New Hampshire has some kids who pay zero and some who pay a small amount. Scholarships of $2,500 will allow more kids to attend for free and more kids to attend for nominal amounts.

The Washington Post wrote that a deal on the D.C. scholarship program “will allow more D.C. families to attend better schools.” The same is true in New Hampshire. More students will have more choices in a modest step forward in educational opportunity.

As modest as the program is for the overall budget, we can’t lose sight of those for whom the program is not modest in the least: students who will have new opportunities. The Post concluded the editorial it titled “The Right Answer” with a call for budget writers to remember what’s important: “What shouldn’t get forgotten in this seemingly endless fight are the people with the most at stake: parents who simply want what’s best for their children.”

In New Hampshire, what will be a modest step for the state and localities and have a negligible impact on what they do and how they do it can have a profound impact on the lives of individual students and the opportunities they don’t currently have.

Today, legislators have a rare opportunity to make an enormous difference in the future of individual students.

 

In response to the Governor’s statement yesterday, Josiah Bartlett Center President Charlie Arlinghaus released the following call for a retraction:

“Earlier this week, we corrected the factually incorrect part of Governor Lynch’s veto statement on the School Choice Scholarship Act.  Rather than admit his mistake, he doubled down. On the front page of today’s New Hampshire Union Leader, Governor Lynch reiterates a claim that the bill he vetoed does something it doesn’t. His claim is clearly and demonstrably incorrect and he should immediately correct the record. He is free to veto the bill but anything more than a cursory reading immediately shows that the bill simply does the opposite of what he claims. Every scholarship is means tested. He continues to claim they are not. This is not a matter of opinion. The plain language of the bll requires every scholarship to be means tested, but the Governor contines to claim that some are not.

“The source of the Governor’s error is easily tracked. He incorrectly suggests that only 70% of scholarships are means tested. The only time the number 70 appears in the bill is in requiring 70% of scholarships to go to students currently in public schools. The language of that paragraph (section 77-G:2, I, (b) of the law) refers back to the section about existing public school children. The section on means testing is nearby so perhaps someone skimming the document would make that error. But it is an error and I suspect the Governor knows that by now. In the interest of good government, he must now retract his claim to correct an egregious mistake.

“The dispute over the Governor’s mistake is not an academic argument. It is important that as bills are debated, they rise and fall on the basis of what they actually say. The Governor simply must correct the record immediately. He is free to oppose the bill for other reasons but every scholarship is means tested and he must not officially claim otherwise.”

 

 Charlie Arlinghaus

June 20, 2012

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

This week the governor forgot to read a bill. Instead he vetoed the subject matter and complained about things that just aren’t part of the bill.  Bill sponsors always complain that vetoes are misleading or don’t fully understand but in this case there is one clear, undeniable, egregious factual error. The Governor clearly didn’t take the time to read the bill before he vetoed it.

The School Choice Scholarship Act creates tax credit funded scholarships that lower income students can use to attend a different public school or non-public school. Students from richer families already have the economic ability to make other educational choices. The scholarship bill tries to extend those opportunities to students from lower income families.

The governor seemed modestly supportive of that goal but then went off the rails. In his official veto message, he offers the claim that “while the intent of the bill, in part, is to provide financial assistance to less fortunate students in helping them switch to a private school, a substantial portion of scholarships are available with no income restrictions.”

The problem with his statement is that it just isn’t true. The bill, SB372, quite clearly requires all scholarships to be means tested at 300% of the federal poverty limit (SB 372, section VIII (b)). There’s no ambiguity. The bill simply does the opposite of what he says it does.

I don’t know exactly how something like this happens. It’s most likely sloppiness. Clearly, the governor doesn’t intend to lie about something so easily checked and so central to the concept of the bill. In a speech earlier in the process, we might attribute it to a mistake – perhaps a quick read through of a proposal where he didn’t notice details or someone’s else’s description of the bill. In this case, perhaps some early draft in the legislative process may have allowed some scholarships without means testing but the bill the governor vetoed does not. And the veto is the point.

A veto is not a mere statement of opinion; it is an act which overturns the will of the Legislature – in this case, a Legislature which worked extremely hard to address an important issue and express that issue via the legislation, passed by clear majorities, presented to him. The Legislature did its job; the least the voters can expect is that the Governor do his and read and understand what is presented to him. If a veto follows from that, so be it. But it is unfortunate and troubling to veto a bill not because of a difference of opinion but because you think the bill does something it doesn’t.

The simple solution: Read it before you veto it.

The legislature which sent the bill to the governor will now vote on whether to override his veto. They’ll discover more about the bill reading it than from the governor’s incorrect hearsay veto message.

By the way, if you read the bill, it’s actually a pretty good bill. The program is simple. Businesses who chose could if they wished receive a tax credit for donations to a scholarship organization. That non-profit would give scholarships averaging $2500 to students from poorer families (the cut off is roughly the bottom half of New Hampshire households).

The bill is a modest but important step. The money allocated is less than one-tenth of one percent of the total school budgets of New Hampshire. But for an individual student able to use a scholarship for greater opportunity, the difference is huge.

No district would lose any state aid unless it had fewer students and even then the loss is capped at one-quarter of one percent of that town’s school budget. It’s hard to see this as anything other than a modest pilot program certainly worthy of giving a try.

As modest a step as this is for the state, it can make an enormous difference in the lives of individual students. More choices for poorer families is just a good idea. Even the governor might agree if he’d read the bill.

A number of people have asked about the clear factual error in the governor’s veto message on SB 372, the school choice bill. Some sections are misleading but there is one clear, undeniable, egregious factual error.

Statement of Charlie Arlinghaus (President, Josiah Bartlett Center):

The Governor’s Big Mistake

Governors should read bills before they veto them. To prove that point, Gov. Lynch vetoed a bill today citing a provision that isn’t part of the bill. Oops. The mistake:

His official veto message of the school choice scholarship act claimed he objected because “while the intent of the bill, in part, is to provide financial assistance to less fortunate students in helping them switch to a private school, a substantial portion of scholarships are available with no income restrictions.”

It just isn’t true. The bill, SB372, quite clearly requires all scholarships to be means tested at 300% of the federal poverty limit (SB 372, section VIII (b)). Some early draft in the legislative process may have allowed some scholarships without means testing but the bill the governor vetoed does not.

A veto is not a mere statement of opinion; it is an act which overturns the will of the Legislature – in this case, a Legislature which worked extremely hard to address an important issue and express that issue via the legislation, passed by clear majorities, presented to him. The Legislature did its job; the least the voters can expect is that the Governor do his and read and understand what is presented to him. If a veto follows from that, so be it. But it is unfortunate and troubling to veto a bill not because of a difference of opinion but because you think the bill does something it doesn’t.

The simple solution: Read it before you veto it.

 Charlie Arlinghaus

June 6, 2012

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

 

The debate over education funding in New Hampshire has always had an element of fear in it ever since the original Claremont rulings. Some fears are well founded, but many are exaggerations not necessarily based in fact or actual history. Fears of the constitutional amendment being considered today are no different. The actual amendment is a tempered response to Claremont that will allow sensible lawmaking and forestall nothing of importance.

While most conservatives support an amendment and have supported one for decades, the current version finds one subset of conservatives still skeptical. This group worries most of all about local control and posits the amendment as a state takeover of education, an elimination of local rights, and suggests instead the Legislature simply ignore the court decision.

The court’s original decision was certainly a contorted definition of the ambiguous phrase “cherish the interests of arts and sciences, and all seminaries and public schools.” Beginning with his “Letters to Educators,” my colleague Eugene Van Loan has continually demonstrated the over-reach of the court interpretation.

Ignoring the decision has been one option available to lawmakers, but not one with any hope of success. Each Legislature has a few dozen politicians willing to tell the court that it wrongly decided Claremont and they choose not to be bound by that decision. In the absence of that possibility, an amendment must be considered.

Critics are in fact correct that the current amendment does limit the Legislature’s options. In fact, the language of the amendment would not allow the Legislature to abandon the funding of education entirely. Today, state aid to education amounts to $1.03 billion over 10 different aid programs. The current amendment would not allow the Legislature to spend zero dollars. Then again, no one seriously proposes that the state do nothing (not that the fear of such an outcome isn’t regularly raised by the left) so that concession forestalls nothing in reality.

Some wrongly worry that the amendment would eliminate local control of education decisions. They worry the amendment will “centralize control” of education decisions, not just funding, and move authority from the towns to the state. In fact, the amendment clarifies that the state may in fact delegate authority it has and has always had down to the towns.

From the beginning, the state has controlled education. For our entire history, the state has mandated curricula and teaching credentials. The very first education laws of the state stipulated the credentials required to be allowed to teach, and they mandated curricula — one curriculum in most towns, a different curriculum in shire towns. In the first few years, curricula were loosened, credentials were tightened.

The misunderstanding stems from language in our constitution, borrowed like most of it from Massachusetts, that gives towns the “right of electing their own teachers.” The basis and understanding of that right is at the center of a group’s opposition to the amendment.

That right never allowed towns to elect absolutely anyone for any reason with any credential. From the beginning, the state specified minimum standards to be eligible to be selected and requirements for what that person could teach. To the modern mind, we might ask what good that right was if the state nonetheless dictated who might be eligible for election.

Remember that under the original constitution that right was for “Protestant Teachers of Morality and Piety.” The phrasing was not simply anti-Catholic bigotry. It reminds us that the line between teacher and minister was not so clear as we see it today. The former colonists did not want ministers or teachers imposed on them by an Anglican Bishop and instead wanted the right to elect a minister they chose — low church, not high church, Congregational not Anglican. They liberalized the laws so the town could choose and the teachers would not necessarily have to possess a credential from a bishop in England.

Regulation of teachers’ credentials was done by the state before, during and after the constitution. Curriculum requirements were established before, during and after the constitution. However, the good Congregationalists across New England made it clear that they wanted the right to pick the specific, qualified individual lest some community with dissenting sympathies have a Church of England teacher forced on them.

We should all work to oppose laws dictating every detail of education in local public schools. But the state has had that power for 230 years, and the fact that this amendment does not radically undo that original understanding of the state’s authority is no reason to avoid doing the sensible thing.

 

Frequently Asked Questions About the School Choice Scholarship Act

By Jason Bedrick

In the last decade, eight states have launched scholarship tax credit (STC) programs to expand educational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of students across America, particularly those from low- and middle-income families. These programs provide tax credits to businesses that donate to state-approved, non-profit scholarship organizations (SOs). The SOs use the funds to grant scholarships to families seeking alternatives to their geographically-assigned public schools, including non-public, homeschooling, and out-of-district public schools.

This paper addresses Frequently Asked Questions about scholarship tax credit programs in general and the proposed New Hampshire scholarship tax credit legislation, SB 372, as amended in House Ways and Means, in particular.  There is an equivalent House Bill (HB 1607) that passed in the House and has also passed the Senate 17-7.  The latest amendments to each bill will bring them into sync.

Click here to read the FAQ

 Charlie Arlinghaus

May 16, 2012

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

A very small step for the state will be a huge leap for individual students if the legislature decides to adopt a modest school choice scholarship act today. Despite misleading accusations flying around from people who resist any change, the debate comes down to whether you want to provide hundreds of poorer students greater choice with little impact on the current system.

The program is simple. Businesses who chose could if they wished receive a tax credit for donations to a scholarship organization. That non-profit would give scholarships averaging $2500 to students from poorer families (the cut off is roughly the bottom half of New Hampshire households).

The total program would amount, in the first year, to less than one-tenth of 1% of education spending in New Hampshire (hardly a financial shift). The state budget would actually save a few hundred thousands of dollars each year.

Critics worry that individual towns will lose money. Yet no town would lose a dime unless it also lost students. And that’s how the state aid programs work already. Fewer students fewer dollars, more students more dollars.

One student here or there has little impact on spending but that’s true in both directions. Aid is per pupil. One more student, a town receives another $4000 even though it has no additional cost. The same is true in reverse. The first student lost saves a small amount of money while perhaps the tenth saves a great deal more because you can consolidate.

To prevent spiking problems, the school choice scholarship act contains an impact cap. As a result of this program, no town will lose more than one quarter on one percent of its total budget. I suspect that towns that deal with 5 and 10 percent increases and decreases every year can manage with a base of 99.75% of their budget.

Opponents also fret that an average scholarship of $2500 isn’t enough to help enough people. First, with an average some scholarships can be higher and others lower. More important is that no school charges sticker price. It’s much like college that way. Every non-public school has some students who attend for free and some students who pay a relatively small amount – as much as their budgets and financial aid funds allow. The mission of each of these schools is education after all.

A scholarship of $2500 will allow more students to attend for free and more students to attend for a nominal amount. The Josiah Bartlett Center has studied in detail similar programs in eight other states and this is the experience in each and every one of them. A scholarship provides more opportunity for more people.

The other canard thrown at people is the constitution. There are some who believe this program should be unconstitutional but whether it should or shouldn’t be it simply isn’t. While other programs lead to constitutional guesswork, programs of this type (an education tax credit) have been litigated nationally and in states with more or less the same language of our constitution. They have always been found constitutional because they are funded with tax credits and involve the free choice of parents.

At the end of the day, the only reason to support or oppose a school choice scholarship program is whether or not you believe in the wisdom of the goal. Children from richer families have school choice now. Poorer families do not. I honestly believe that extending a choice of schools to people who don’t have one now will result in better outcomes for individual students.

It is common sense that more choices for poorer families are better. School choice has been studied as much as any policy choice in America. Of the ten academic, random assignment studies, nine found positive impacts for participating students. One claims no change. Of the nineteen studies of the existing public schools in school choice areas, eighteen found those public schools had also gotten better. One found no change.

It’s hard not to think of this as a win-win situation. No school, good or bad, works for everyone. Allow more students more choice is. The program proposed for New Hampshire is limited to poorer families, has a modest and limited financial impact on school districts, and will make a difference in the lives of hundreds of students.

 Charlie Arlinghaus

May 9, 2012

As originally publish in the New Hampshire Union Leader

An amendment on education funding in New Hampshire is long overdue and is only common sense. The only thing stopping the legislature from putting one on the ballot are the misconceptions of one group of people and the tax fantasies of another. Both groups should be overlooked and an amendment adopted.

The source of the conflict is a series of state Supreme Court ruling called the Claremont decisions which basically said, in 1999, that the way we had funded education – largely through local property taxes with a small amount of state aid – was unconstitutional.

They interpreted  the phrase “cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries and public schools,” to mean that the state can’t delegate its authority and has to use a state not a local tax to pay for a basic portion of the funding. The inherent ambiguity of the phrase is what led many people to think of the decision as a bit of an overreach.

Some of the more liberal leaning legislators hoped the decision would force an income tax or at least a transfer of education to the state – one big school district of you will. But that was always a fantasy and there has never been much support for a state school district (nor should there be).

Current state education spending is about $2.7 billion or $15,000 per pupil. The state transfers about one billion dollars, a little more than a third of spending. In any system where state aid is a minority of revenue, people in both parties agree those limited dollars ought to be targeted on the basis of need (just as most government programs are). But the court specifically prohibits that.

One course would be for the legislature to dispute the court’s ruling and assert its own interpretation of constitutionality. But in the most libertarian leaning there ever was and probably ever will be, there are precious few votes for such an approach.

A reasonable amendment that would allow targeting aid and change little else would restore the ability of the legislature to make its own decisions instead of wondering first what the court will allow.

The latest version, a recently tweaked draft being considered by a committee of conference, is supported by the leading scholarly critic of Claremont jurisprudence Gene Van Loan and former justice Chuck Douglas. Needless to say, it isn’t wishy washy.

Nonetheless, there is a group that opposes it as some sort of assault on local control and claims that New Hampshire is some sort of home rule state. They are wrong on most counts.

New Hampshire does not now nor has it ever had complete local control. Skeptics point to a provision in the constitution granting towns the right of electing their own teacher. While towns have that right, from the beginning the state regulated them and what they taught.

The first law under the new republic specified the credentials required of a teacher, the subjects that must be taught, and the different subjects that must be taught in a shire town. The curriculum rules were altered again in 1807. Then in 1808, additional curriculum requirements were placed on towns and the  regulations on teachers were again changed with more state minimums placed upon them before they were allowed to be hired by the town.

In the first forty years of the republic, laws were changed seven times creating more regulations regarding curriculum, required local regulatory officials, required taxes, and minimum state standards for teachers.

In fact, when the first direct state aid program was passed in 1828 (it was about 10% of total revenue), it was used a carrot to better enforce compliance with state regulation and the state superintendent of public instruction.

Don’t get me wrong, we should fight against local interference in curriculum decisions. I don’t think the state should insist of teaching this or not teaching that even if I happen to agree. Parents locally should decisions about textbooks, subjects and curriculum. But the structure of New Hampshire’s government has always permitted interference and the language of the current amendment will affect that reality not one jot or tittle.

It remains upon us and will remain upon us to limit over regulation by both conservatives and liberals to preserve local decision making.

The proposed amendment is both sensible and reasonable. Legislators should offer it to the people for their consideration this fall.

By Jason Bedrick

March 2012

(Click here to read the full report)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Access to educational opportunities in New Hampshire is primarily determined by zip code and accident of birth. Though New Hampshire has some of the highest-performing public schools in the nation, performance across school districts is uneven. Public school students in wealthier towns like Windham and Bedford perform highly on standardized tests while their low-income peers in Claremont and Stratford lag behind. Moreover, even New Hampshire’s best public schools are not best for every child. Not all children thrive in the traditional classroom environment. Some students need extra support academically, socially or emotionally. Our public schools may work well for most children, but there is no school that is right for all children.

Unfortunately, tens of thousands of New Hampshire students have only one choice of school. While wealthier families can meet their children’s individual needs by moving to communities with higher-performing public schools or paying tuition at an independent school, most low-income families lack the financial capacity to do either.

In recent decades, legislators and policymakers have implemented several innovative policies to expand educational options, including vouchers, charter schools, education savings accounts, and more.  In the last decade, scholarship tax credit (STC) programs have expanded educational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of students in eight states, particularly those from low-income families. In just the last two years, two states have adopted new STC programs while five others expanded their existing STC programs.

Section I: Scholarship Tax Credits

Nationwide, eight states currently operate corporate scholarship tax credit programs. Program design, levels of funding and student participation vary. STC programs are constitutionally sound and receive strong support from parents and the general public.

  • Scholarship tax credit programs are on firm constitutional ground. STC programs have withstood every single legal challenge to date at both the state and federal levels.
  • Parental satisfaction in STC programs is exceptionally high. More than 95 percent of families participating in Florida’s STC program reported that their schools were good or excellent.
  • Nationwide, support for STC programs is more than double the opposition. Support among parents nationwide is even higher at four-to-one in favor.

Section II: Fiscal Impact

The proposed School Choice Scholarship Act (HB 1607) creates a scholarship tax credit program that is designed to save money by reducing state spending more than it reduces tax revenue. Under even the most conservative assumptions, the proposed STC program will affect approximately one tenth of one percent of the current state and local spending on public education. STC programs in several other states have reduced state government expenditures while expanding choices for families.

Section III: Impact on Performance

  • Studies show that school choice program participants perform as well as or better than their public school peers.
  • Participants in school choice programs graduate from high school at higher rates than their public school peers.
  • School choice programs are associated with a positive impact on public school students’ academic performance.

Section IV: Program Design

While broadly similar, STC programs across the country vary significantly in program design, such as means-testing, disbursement requirements, and corporate credits. These differences affect how well the STC programs are able to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of scholarship recipients. Some of the main findings include:

Means-Testing:

  • Means-testing can help target funds to the truly needy, though evidence suggests that SOs target low-income families even without a means-testing requirement.
  • Income caps that are too low reduce the flexibility of SOs to address the needs of families with exigent circumstances (special needs, serious illness, job loss, etc.).

Disbursement Requirement:

  • Scholarship organizations require some level of allowance for administrative costs, especially when starting up. Over time, most spend less than 10 percent on administrative costs.
  • A more liberal administrative cost allowance allows for the creation of more scholarship organizations. Policymakers should consider greater administrative cost allowances (15 to 20 percent) for new scholarship organizations.

Corporate Credits:

  • Most scholarship organizations reported having little to no trouble soliciting donations from businesses when the tax credits were worth 90 percent of the donations.
  • Policymakers should be able to reduce the tax credit percentage somewhat below 90 percent without a significantly negative impact on fundraising. However, it is not clear at what point there would be a negative effect.

When designed and implemented properly, a scholarship tax credit programs is a constitutional, popular and fiscally sound method to increase educational options for low-income families. STC programs can even improve the academic performance of all students, whether they participate in the program or not. Most importantly, a scholarship tax credit program will move New Hampshire from an educational system where access is primarily determined by a student’s zip code and accident of birth toward a system tailored to meet the individual needs of every child.

(Full Report)

(Appendix)

(Sources)

Charlie Arlinghaus

March 28, 2012

As originally publish in the New Hampshire Union Leader

The School Choice Scholarship Act being considered in both the New Hampshire House and Senate is a modest step toward providing children of lesser means with the greater educational opportunity long afforded students from high income families.

It is a truism in education that rich people have school choice and poor people don’t. Statistically in New Hampshire, 30% of children from upper income families go to non-public school. At the lower ends of the income spectrum, only 5% do. In addition, higher-income families have greater economic mobility and are more likely to be able to pick a public school district by moving. Those families who can move more easily, who can afford more choices, have more opportunity and often better outcomes because of those choices.

New Hampshire’s public schools, in the aggregate, are among the best in the country. But one single choice assigned on the basis of zip code not educational requirements can not possibly work well for everyone even if it works well for most. Every student is better off if ha or she has more than one choice.

The goal of the school choice movement in New Hampshire is to give more choices to more people. In 2012 the focus of that effort is a means tested, education tax credit based scholarship bill.

First and foremost, the bill is a good idea because it provides scholarships, funded entirely by tax credits and private donations, to students from lower income families that can be used at any approved school, public or non-public, in New Hampshire.

The local school will be a terrific option for many children but not for every child. Now more children will have more opportunity to explore more choices. That’s a good thing.

While opponents have raised some technical concerns, opposition essentially come down to philosophy. Some opponents don’t believe greater educational opportunity should come at nonpublic schools. But I think we presume that the one assigned school isn’t always going to be the right choice, we ought not object to a different provider.

Financially, the bill benefits the state budget. The scholarship amount, and the tax credit for that scholarship, is smaller than the state per pupil aid so each child who moves saves the state budget money. Our calculation at the Josiah Bartlett Center is that the state budget would save between $1.5 and $2.5 million each year.

Local school districts would see less money in total only if they had fewer students. Just as today, if a school has fewer students, its per pupil aid declines. Under this program, a district would have fewer dollars and fewer students but more money per student because the amount lost is less than a third of New Hampshire’s $15,000 per pupil spending.

There are always constitutional questions about school choice. A study my organization did in 2004 found that even a voucher program properly constructed should be constitutional. Nonetheless, what we think a court should do and what they might do aren’t the same thing.

However, a tax credit program is a step removed. Based on jurisprudence across the country dealing with very similar language, tax credit programs will be found constitutional although some opponents think they shouldn’t be.

At the end of the day, this is a modest attempt to provide some children with scholarships. The total size of the program amounts to less than one-quarter of one percent of the $2.7 billion spent in New Hampshire on K-12 education.

The average scholarship is small but critical to opportunity. While $2500 is not full tuition, the sticker price is not what almost any student pays. Every non-public school has some children who pay zero and some children who pay very little based on need.  This program will allow a school to educate more students.

So much of what we talk about in public policy is based on spreadsheets and politics. This program is perhaps the most important proposal the legislature will consider this year. It may not change the dynamic of education in the aggregate but it will make an enormous difference in the lives of thousands of individual students.

A School Choice Scholarship Program is a modest step for the state government to make. But modest steps can be huge leaps for individual students.