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Voucher bills could hit taxpayers in the pocketbook

March 24, 2021
WOLFEBORO — "Legislation around schools this year is unbelievable," said Governor Wentworth Regional School District Superintendent Kathy Cuddy-Egbert when giving her legislative report to the school board on March 8.

She continued, "It's just one bill right after the other; most are around school choice and vouchers, and I am concerned about some of them."

Legislators recently rescinded HB20, a school choice/voucher bill, after feedback ran 5-1 against it. The bill is put aside for the time being, giving lawmakers the opportunity to come up with a more palatable version. It was immediately followed by SB130 (local sponsors Sen. Jeb Bradley and Rep. Glenn Cordelli).

"If the money the bill is talking about goes where it is meant to go, it will cost the district $1.5 million, and that's just [taking into account] the homeschoolers. It doesn't count the students in public schools," Cuddy Egbert said.

Cuddy Egbert said she and School Board Chairman Jack Widmer had a Zoom meeting with legislators, who seemed to think having fewer students leave the public schools would save money; however, if, for example, 50 students leave from among all the schools, that does not translate into being able to simply reduce a teaching position.

HB 455 (local sponsor, Rep. Glenn Cordelli)– parents can enroll students in schools of their choice.

"We have several tuitioned students from other districts," said Cuddy-Egbert. "Without charging tuition I'm not sure what it would do to our district. It would have to be based on adequacy grants...that definitely means [a loss] of thousands of dollars."

HB 182 (local sponsor Glenn Cordelli) concerns approval of course work at other approved schools, said Cuddy-Egbert, which she felt would take away the school board's authority to make those decisions. The costs would be apportioned among schools in cooperative districts and subject to review every five years.

"We would probably have constant negotiation." she said.

"I'm not sure where it is coming from," commented school board member at large Krista Abear.

In her view, the "efforts to take away from public schools" seem to take away local control.

The superintendent noted that if money the district already has is given to students for attendance elsewhere it "will hit taxpayers very hard. The fiscal notes are not correct. It looks like it's not going to cost the public a lot of money, but it is. Certain costs are fixed."

Widmer, also a member of the New Hampshire School Boards Association's position is that the "state's attempts to destroy public education is not a wise thing to do...It is an opportunity for the state to shirk its responsibilities."

In his view, "the governor is great dealing with COVID but he is anti public education...There is a group of people pushing in that direction." He cited the governor's choice of Frank Edelblut as Education Director, a man whose children did not attend public school, as another example of lack of support.

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