Concord: Overcast, 59 °F
Senate Moves School Vouchers Forward
The Senate has narrowly passed a plan to create vouchers for elementary school-aged students.
If approved, the measure would ultimately provide vouchers to 14 thousand students.
New Hampshire Public Radio's Dan Gorenstein reports.
The vote in the New Hampshire Senate was 11-10, with four Republicans breaking ranks to vote against the bill.
Republican Senator Dick Green sees two significant benefits to establishing a voucher system.
He says in the long-run schools and tax payers will save money, because there will be fewer students in the system.
But Green says, the main beneficiaries are the kids.
3:46 This is about the children. It's about children getting the appropriate education. And my view is that appropriate education can be provided by the private or the public sector.
The bill would phase in vouchers.
In the fall of 2005, up to 12 hundred school vouchers would be issued to 1st and 2nd graders.
In the program's 7th year, that number would grow to 14 thousand.
The vouchers would be worth between $900 dollars and $3,600, depending on a family's income.
Democratic Senator Joe Foster says that's not enough to make most non-denominational schools affordable.
As a result, he believes that will boost enrollment at religious schools.
Constitutional issues aside, Foster asked his colleagues to consider where that might lead.
What if, he suggested, someone forms a school that taught the values of the Taliban.
Would it bother you, he asked, to know the state was writing checks for parents who sent their kids to that school.
Republican Senator Jack Barnes took the bait.
7:14 you mention the Taliban. I think that was a horrible example to bring out in your speech today...b/c I think if any school here in NH, was teaching the Taliban with our guys getting killed in Iraq...that is a very bad example to bring onto the floor.
7:57 I gave that example b/c once you start funding religious organizations, you can't choose between them. This bill is about parental choice...parents of children who don't have the funds can choose which school they want to go to...I'd suggest to you, you couldn't stop that school, even if you wanted to, without a constitutional challenge.
Other senators were concerned the state simply lacked the funds to support a voucher program.
Even given the potential savings from fewer students, some senators argued schools will still have the same fixed costs.
Republican Andy Peterson raised another red flag.
Once you start writing checks, you create a new class of people who want that money.
He likened vouchers to the Trojan Horse.
1:32 I think we will find, if we become fascinated with this creature, and allow it inside our city, the doors will open from beneath and out will flow a huge new entitlement, which we will be required to service with our tax dollars hence forth.
Senator Green estimates the voucher program in its first year would cost New Hampshire at most, 4 million dollars.
He wants to take that amount from money currently earmarked to towns in the state's education aid program.
About 4 million dollars is slated to go to former donor towns under the current funding plan.
Green says as former donor towns, those communities don't need the money.
But given the delicate politics surrounding school fuding, it's unclear that money will be available.
The proposal now moves to the Senate Finance Committee.
For NHPR News, I'm DG.