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Friday, May 5, 2017

Voucher Mania Spreads to New Hampshire: Is This a Sign That Public Education Advocates in Other States Should Brace Themselves?

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Derek Black
April 25, 2017

"... local advocates (must) be prepared to defend the values that justify public education and not get caught off guard by what would normally be long-shot voucher bills."

That expansive voucher programs found a receptive audience in Nevada and Arizona's legislatures is not altogether surprising. When similar programs gain steam in places like New Hampshire, it is worth taking serious notice. The AP reports that a sweeping voucher bill breezed through the state's senate.

"The legislation would allow any public school student to use roughly $3,500 in tax dollars to attend a private or religious school or use the money on homeschooling, tutoring or other expenses. It would be one of the nation's broadest school choice bills, similar to programs that have passed in Arizona and Nevada."

Fortunately, the bill has slowed up in the state house.

"The Republican-controlled House Education Committee is likely to retain the bill Tuesday, meaning it won't get a vote until next year." The governor has also expressed reservations.

Even if this bill ultimately goes nowhere, making it this far is evidence that I underestimated the Trump administration's impact on education policy. Given the current legislative structure at the federal level, the Secretary of Education has virtually no power to push an affirmative policy agenda. The Every Student Succeeds Act returns the lion's share of power back to states.

Thus, my working assumption was that the Trump choice agenda would not have a perceptible effect on state policy. States disinterested in choice would ignore the administration. States that were interested would act, but not because of anything Trump or DeVos said.

The quick spread of particularly expansive voucher programs, however, does not appear coincidental. The Trump administration did not give states the idea of expanding choice, but it appears to have emboldened them to do things they otherwise would have considered not possible or worth the effort. If New Hampshire can move a bill through its Senate, I am afraid there is a long list of other states that can go even further.

Stopping that agenda will require local advocates to be prepared to defend the values that justify public education and not get caught off guard by what would normally be long-shot voucher bills.

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