Thursday, May 10, 2018

Vampire Vouchers

Senate Bill 193 is titled: “Establishing education freedom savings accounts for students”, and was filed in January of 2017. It sped quickly through the Senate, and moved to the House in March 2017. It stayed in the House till last week. The bill spent 10 months in the NH House Education Committee, and four months in House Finance. During those four months, there were two public hearings, and 13 committee work sessions. It may have whizzed through the Senate, but the House really worked on it. The majority of the Finance Committee recommended it be sent to Interim Study. A simple legislative rule of thumb: any bill that has “freedom” in the title is going to be bad. 

Despite the title, this is a school voucher bill. It would take taxpayer funds from the public schools, and launder them through a third party, to bypass the Constitutional prohibition against using taxpayer funds for religious education. The cash would leave the Freedom Laundry, and go to private schools, religious schools, or to homeschooling families.

This bill comes to us from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, where far right conservatives draft model legislation and pass it on to the ALEC representatives in the various states. ALEC ‘s model bill is called “The Education Savings Account Act.” (Look it up at  There are a number of NH legislators tied to ALEC. Senator John Reagan of Deerfield is on ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force. Senator Reagan is also the sponsor of this voucher bill. Governor Sununu loves this bill – it’s one of the centerpieces of his legislative agenda.

The bill claims it will help low income families to be able to afford private school or home schooling. The Freedom Laundry has little in the way of accountability built into it. Tax dollars should be publicly accountable, transparent dollars, not dollars siphoned off to someone who wants to keep their kid out of gummint schools so they can teach them what kind of gun Jesus carried when he rode a dinosaur. 

State Representative Neal Kurk from Weare chairs the House Finance Committee. Kurk is a solid conservative, usually beloved by his party for the parsimonious state budgets he compiles every two years. Long time readers may remember me mocking Neal Kurk for an opinion piece he co-wrote with Rep. Laurie Sanborn in 2013 on the dangers of expanded Medicaid, where they bemoaned the possibility that low income yacht dwellers would be mooching free health care. It will cause an income tax, they cried!  Another rule of thumb: if a policy helps people, it will create GOP cries about an income tax. If a policy is proven to hurt taxpayers, the silence is deafening. 

Neal Kurk did not support the bill. He did the math, and found that SB 193 would bleed $99 million from the public schools and jack up property taxes. The House voted to send the bill to interim study, in a roll call vote of 170-159. Speaker Chandler immediately gaveled the session to a close, before a motion to reconsider could be made, which would, if defeated, prevent the bill from coming back.

After an evening of brisk arm-twisting by the Governor and other ideologues, the bill came back the next day. The motion to reconsider was defeated. That was the end of that, or so it seemed.

Alas, nothing bad ever dies in the NH legislature. It comes back again and again, sometimes for decades. This only took a few hours. The Senate was in session far into the night, and they attached the vampire voucher bill to another education bill, as an amendment. In other words, the people pushing this bill (and the special interests behind it) are going to do any underhanded thing they can think of to jam it through. 

Senator Jeb Bradley justified this late-night chicanery in the Concord Monitor, as “an opportunity to allow the discussion to continue.” The Carroll County Republican delegation all voted to drain the public schools and increase your property taxes. The only exception was Karel Crawford, who was excused.

Republicans used to call themselves the party of fiscal responsibility. There is nothing fiscally responsible about this bill, as Neal Kurk pointed out, to the public displeasure of his party. Today’s NH GOP has no interest in listening to voters or doing what is best for the state. They have an ideological agenda, and those who refuse to march in lockstep will be vilified.

By the time you read this, the House will have voted to concur or not concur with the amended version of HB 1636, the bill that the voucher amendment was attached to. A week of strong-arming and threats might win over the remaining Republican representatives that can still think for themselves. Those legislators live in other counties. Be sure to ask your Carroll County Republican representatives why they want to raise your property taxes. 

UPDATE: The House voted on concurrence. Twice. The first vote was on a motion not to concur, and to ask for a committee of conference. The Carroll County delegation all voted for that, save for Rep. Karel Crawford who voted nay. The motion failed. 

The second vote was to just flat out non-concur. Two Carroll County Republicans voted not to concur; Representative Karel Crawford, and Representative William Marsh. (Last week Marsh voted for the voucher bill.) The motion carried. 

A third vote motion was made to reconsider, with the same amendments. This motion also failed. 

After 5 votes, the vampire voucher bill is finally done for the year. We can all look forward to seeing it come back next year - and those Republicans who didn't toe the party line can expect to be punished in the primary. 

published as an op-ed in the May 11 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

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