In Blow to School Choice Advocates, N.H. House Panel Wants to Study SB 193

Apr 25, 2018

New Hampshire State House.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

A controversial school choice bill was dealt a significant setback by lawmakers in the House Finance Committee on Wednesday.

Under Senate Bill 193, some parents could use state tax dollars to educate their children outside of public school using what are known as education savings accounts. 

The idea has the support of Governor Chris Sununu and an earlier version of the bill passed in the state Senate.

But for nearly four months, the House Finance Committee has wrestled with concerns about accountability and costs for local school districts. 

When it finally came time for the committee to issue its recommendation on Wednesday, Republican Representative Karen Umberger assured her colleagues that problems identified in earlier versions of the bill had been worked out.

“I don’t believe that by passing this bill as amended is going to have the catastrophic effect that so many people believe is true. And I would agree with you that what came from Senate Education was absolutely catastrophic to the towns and cities.”

But a majority of the committee, including Republican chair Neal Kurk were not convinced. Kurk cited a figure from the Legislative Budget Assistant that estimates the amount of public dollars that could be diverted from public schools under SB 193 over an 11-year period.

“I’ve voted in favor of choice in the past but I can’t support this bill for one reason -- or one primary reason," Kurk said. "This bill downshifts $99 million to local property taxpayers in ways that they will not be able to avoid by reducing expenses.”

The committee voted 14-12 to send the bill to interim study, which would essentially take the proposal off the table for the rest of the year.

The recommendation for interim study could still be overturned by a vote in the full House. Like the Senate, the House has already approved an earlier version of the bill.

(This is article was updated Wednesday afternoon.)