HB 340: Affirming School Choice

February 20, 2011

Good morning, my name is Ann Marie Banfield, I am the Education Liaison and I am here representing Cornerstone Action.  Cornerstone Actions represents roughly 6,000 NH residents.

I am here in full support of HB 340.

It is crucial that New Hampshire start the process of school choice.  At Cornerstone we look at ways to improve all areas of education, public, private and home-schooling.  One of the best ways you can improve the public school system in NH is by opening it up to a little competition.  HB 340 begins the process of bringing competition to our public school system.

There are many examples of where adding this kind of initiative to the education mix, resulted in both improvements for the students and school district.

Some of the highest performing countries on the International assessments (TIMSS) have true school choice.  Not only are the parents and students happy but you will find a great deal of support among the public schools too.  School choice has improved the quality of public education in places like Sweden.  School choice has also improved the quality of education in this country too.

U.S. Department of Education evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20104018/pdf/20104018.pdf
Key findings:
There was a 21 percent difference (impact) for using a scholarship to attend a participating private school.
The 21 percentage point difference for impact means the typical student who received a voucher and actually used it to attend a private school had a graduation rate of 91 percent, compared to 70 percent for non-voucher students. Here’s exactly how the graduation rates break down:
•   D.C. Public Schools graduation rate: 49 percent.
•   Control group (those students who applied for a voucher but did not receive one) graduation rate: 70 percent.
•   Voucher recipient group (students who applied for a voucher, won the lottery to receive one, but did not necessarily use it) graduation rate: 82 percent.
•   Impact of voucher use: (students who applied for, received, and actually used the voucher to attend a private school) graduation rate: 91 percent.

Evaluation of McKay program in Florida (competitive pressure works): http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_52.htm
Key findings:
•   “Public school students with relatively mild disabilities made statistically significant test score improvements in both math and reading as more nearby private schools began participation in the McKay program. That is, contrary to the hypothesis that school choice harms students who remain in public schools, this study finds that students eligible for vouchers who remained in the public schools made greater academic improvements as their school choices increased.”

We would like to see all parents have a stronger voice in public education.  The only way to do this is to allow funding to follow the child.  Let’s remember, the abatement comes from the taxes the family pays and it would be applied to their child’s education.  In other words, it’s their money and their child.  Giving permission to a family to spend their own money on their child’s education should be something everyone supports.

Money is the driving force in education.  A perfect example is the Race to the Top initiative coming from the Obama Administration.  Right now states can qualify for grant money if they comply with certain education reforms.  Last year a few Bills were introduced that addressed these reforms.  This is happening all over the country.  The problem is, not all of these reforms are needed in NH, some of reforms ignore the many problems parents face in their district and the states and schools focus on answering to the Federal Government rather than the parents in the community.

It was amazing to watch schools lower their academic standards just to get a piece of that grant money.  States like California and Massachusetts actually lowered their academic standards in an effort to qualify for the RttT funding.

Parents are more concerned with the quality of education their children are receiving in their district however their voices are going ignored because they don’t have the power to wield large sums of money around to get the schools to act accordingly.

We know from example after example that schools will respond to the one holding the funding.  We simply ask that the parents be included.

While this Bill may seem as if it addresses the needs of those outside the public school system, I would argue that is not the case.  This is exactly what is needed in NH to improve the quality of education for all students.  This may seem like an initiative that focuses on easing the financial needs of those already outside the public schools, but I would argue this is exactly what the public school children need.

Education funding should focus on funding the child rather than the school.  We’ve been funding the schools for years and the results are dismal if you look at how the United States students score compared to their foreign peers.

School choice efforts have become so popular, you will find bi-partisan support in all areas of the country.  Senator Feinnstein has joined forces with Speaker Boehner to pass legislation on the federal level that supports the D.C. School Voucher program.  This is no longer a partisan effort but one that all sides acknowledge benefits students and public education.

For too  long the only ones who could benefit from school choice were those who could afford it.  This has left many lower income students left behind.  We are finally seeing both parties acknowledge the need to allow all students to benefit from the best education available.

We hope you will consider allowing parents to use their tax dollars to educate their children the best way they see fit.
Thank You

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