During the debate over HB 370, the effort to repeal the tax credit scholarship program that would benefit lower income families, Rep. David Hess (R-Hooksett) reported that the program would give 95% of our population closer to the same opportunity the wealthy 5% now enjoy – the chance to send their children to schools that best meet their needs and prepare them for the future.
So how do we explain why many House and Senate Democrats, those belonging to a party that promotes itself as the “champion of the poor,” sought to repeal a law that serves our low and middle income students – those striving for educational opportunity?
Some of the testimony was, in my opinion, downright dishonest, ignorant or condescending – sometimes all three! For example, Rep. Mary Gile (D-Concord) stated that “the average scholarship of $2500 per student is tempting, but far too little to send the child to a secular, private school.” Why Rep. Gile feels qualified to make that judgment for all families is one question, but she completely ignores the fact that in many states, with these same programs, parents send their children to different schools with much smaller scholarships – and she knows that. She also commented that “parent choice” should NOT be the focus of our education system. I suspect the families of over 450 students who have applied for the scholarships just might disagree.
Rep. Lorrie Carey (D-Boscawen) also spoke in favor of the repeal while admitting she herself has chosen home school, private schooling and public schooling for her own children. Because she can afford these options she feels others must also be able to afford them. Is she that out of touch with her constituency?
Saving the best for last, Rep. Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough) said “parents have the right to educate their children as they see fit, and private, religious and home schools have a valid role to play in educating our children.” Then she voted to repeal the program that would enable parents to exercise that right! She also stated that “no provision in the law is made for our students with special needs.” Rep. Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill) explained that, in fact, there is a provision in the law to fund special needs scholarships at 175% of the $2500 average scholarship. Did Rep. Porter actually read the details of the program she voted against?
A lone Democratic highlight was Rep. Kris Roberts (D-Keene) who gave a very impassioned commentary on these scholarships and who would use them. He spoke of the “ethical and moral responsibility to ensure that every child has an opportunity to receive a competitive education.” Also, “for many black and low-income parents they understand that their children will only have one shot at the American dream and that is a quality education.” In answer to $2500 not being enough, he stated that “just getting a little bit more money in help makes the difference of being in a class wasting time or getting a quality education.”
Rep. Roberts concluded, “while we adults say we are doing this [repealing the scholarships] for the children, the vast majority really are not, but are doing it for our own political or personal reasons.”
So I ask you why in the world would any Representative, Democrat or Republican, not support K-12 scholarships and an opportunity for low-income children to receive the same educational opportunities afforded those with financial means? Let’s hope our Senators show more backbone and compassion.
Kathleen Lauer-Rago is a former State Representative from Merrimack’s 2nd District.