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N.H. Lawmakers to Vote on Controversial School Choice Bill

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A bill that would allow New Hampshire parents to use state funding to send their children to private schools faces a key vote Tuesday.

The House Education Committee will vote on the controversial bill that’s been the subject of debate among lawmakers and school reform advocates.

The bill if passed, would be one of the most sweeping school choice programs in the country.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with NHPR reporter Jason Moon about the bill.

Let’s review. Why has this been such a controversial bill?

Well as you said, it's all about using public dollars for education that happens outside of public schools. So the basic concept is that parents would get a pot of tax dollars to spend on what they feel is the best educational opportunity for their kids. So the bill lists some options of what they can spend it on. And that includes, private school tuition, home school supplies, online classes, tutors and even transportation to some of those things. So it gets at, you know, a kind of bedrock, philosophical debate about public education or education with public dollars, and whether that should only happen in a public school.

And this vote was supposed to take place last week, but it was postponed because state Republicans said they weren't ready. What are the key aspects of the bill that that they've been disagreeing on?

Well one of the things that's notable about this bill, and the reason that we've been calling it a sweeping school choice bill, is that the eligibility requirements for the bill have been really broad. So in other states that have similar programs, they're generally targeted at very specific subpopulations of the student body—so kids that are low income or kids that are going to public schools that are performing poorly. In this case, the bill has been really broad saying that basically any student could take advantage of this program. Last week at the House Education Committee, there was an amendment introduced that would significantly limit that eligibility requirement, and make this bill a whole lot less sweeping.

So that's one issue of debate about how many kids should be able to, and then what sort of kids should be able to use this program. Another one is the main critique of this bill, which is that it's going to hurt public schools. It's going to take away money that would otherwise be going to public schools. And last week we also saw an amendment that would basically hold public schools harmless. So if they were going to lose a certain amount of money, public schools would get that money back, which means new money. That's the new spending. That's not just taking the same education dollars. So that's also a point of debate going forward.

Sure, where would that money come from?

Exactly. It's unclear at this point.

And so what are you expecting from the vote today? Do you predict the bill will move on to a full House vote?

I will be surprised if it doesn't come out of committee with an ought to pass recommendation. You know, the House Education Committee has a Republican majority as does the State House in general. And they've just done a lot of work on this bill. They've been trying to keep it alive over the summer. Remember it got tabled from the last session. School choice advocates have been really involved in keeping this thing going. And just last week Republican Gov. Chris Sununu held a press conference to you know push his support of the bill. So with all this energy behind the bill, I will be surprised if it doesn't at least get a vote on the House floor.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.

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