With all Republicans and one Democrat voting Yes, the New Hampshire State Senate approved Senator James M. Rubens’ parental choice and tuition reimbursement bill by a 16-8 vote on April 2. An identical House bill, sponsored by Representative Mary Brown, is now under review by the House Education Committee. The bill seeks to enable rather than mandate school choice, leaving the structure and implementation of a choice program up to voters in each local school district.
“Let’s tear down the Berlin Wall running through every one of our New Hampshire towns and through the lives of every New Hampshire family,” said Rubens when he unveiled his plan earlier this year. He urged ending the state’s largest monopoly and giving all parents, rich and poor, the right to choose the best school for their children.
“Excellence can only be defined and achieved by giving parents more control over their children’s schools,” he added.
Under the bill’s provisions, parents would choose a school and, after paying for tuition, expenses, and supplies, would submit proof of purchase to the school district. The school district would then reimburse the parents up to the maximum amounts set by the voters of the district. Reimbursement rates would be permitted to vary by grade level and may include home schooling expenses, with actual rates set and changed by local voters to meet local needs.
The bill provides for a simple one-step process to adopt or rescind a parental choice program in a given district. In most school districts, 25 voters may craft a local plan and insert it on the annual district meeting ballot, with passage or repeal requiring a 2/3 super-majority vote.
A provision inserted to secure passage of the bill severely limits the scope of the program. Only the first five school districts in the state to adopt a school choice plan will be permitted to put that plan into effect.
“Parental choice can reduce district property taxes because most independent schools operate at a lower cost than public schools,” argued Rubens. He said districts could use parental choice, instead of expensive and politically unpopular bond issues, as a means of accommodating space constraints and enrollment growth.
“Parents, not state adequacy bureaucrats, know which school is best for their child,” he said, predicting that New Hampshire would have the best school system in the world within five years if parental choice were adopted statewide. He also pointed out that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, market forces had produced improvements much faster than bureaucracy.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].