New Hampshire's House of Representatives has defeated a multi-million dollar voucher plan by one vote.
On Feb. 5, the House voted 172-171 to kill a bill that would have established a voucher experiment limited to 2,000 first- and second-graders in the first year. After seven years the plan would have expanded to 14,000 public school students.
Under the plan, vouchers would be worth 80 percent of the per-pupil expenditure allocated by the state. Voucher proponents, led by the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, a pro-voucher think tank, argued that under this formula, public schools would save money because they would get to keep 20 percent of funding for students who had left the system.
But public school proponents said the argument did not wash. They noted that the departure of a few students from a classroom would not decrease classroom costs by an appreciable amount.
"The only thing you'll save on a student who leaves is the cost of a spelling book or a box of crayons," said Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association. "That doesn't cover the cost of the [per-pupil allocation] a district would have to pay over."
Other critics noted that the voucher bill required public school districts to provide transportation to private schools within their districts, a cost that could quickly pile up.
Gov. Craig Benson (R) is a voucher booster, and the state's largest newspaper, the ultra-conservative Manchester Union-Leader, repeatedly editorialized in favor of the plan.
Americans United's Legislative Department weighed in on the controversy, urging lawmakers in a letter to reject the voucher bill. The letter noted that New Hampshire's Constitution bars appropriations of state funds to religious schools.
In other news about parochial school aid:
Americans United has urged Maryland lawmakers to drop a proposed $3-million allocation for religious and other private schools. The funds, included in the state's budget, are designed to help private schools pay for textbooks. In February Americans United asked James Proctor, chairman of the Education and Economic Development Subcommittee of the House of Delegate's Appropriations Committee, to remove the money.
Legislators in Georgia will soon vote on a proposed constitutional amendment designed to water down the state constitution's church-state separation provisions. Gov. Sonny Purdue (R) insists that the change is needed so that "faith-based" groups in Georgia can receive state aid.
Americans United says the change is unnecessary and dangerous. In a Feb. 5 letter to lawmakers, the group urged a vote against the change. If legislators approve the change, the matter would still have to go before the voters.
Virginia legislators have proposed a $6 million tuition tax credit bill that Americans United says is really "backdoor vouchers." The organization has asked lawmakers in the state to vote against the legislation, arguing that it runs afoul of the Virginia Constitution.
Americans United's Legislative Department is monitoring these bills and others.
"Pro-voucher forces are on the march in several states, and we expect to see many pitched battles in state legislatures this year," said Ann Mulligan, AU's states legislative coordinator. "Americans United members should click on the 'Legislative Update' section of AU's website, www.au.org, for up-to-date information."