CONCORD – Two former Trump administration cabinet secretaries came to New Hampshire Tuesday to kick off a national campaign to expand options for parents other than their neighborhood public school.
Ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos shared top billing at the Bank of New Hampshire Stage, sponsored by the Club for Growth, a pro-free enterprise lobbying group.
The visit came as New Hampshire’s new state law takes effect Wednesday, which offers low and moderate-income families an education freedom scholarship to send their child to a private, alternative, public or home school program.
“There is nothing that is more likely to undermine our United States than is our failure to educate our next generation of children,” said Pompeo, the former CIA secretary and ex-congressman seen as a potential presidential contender in 2024.
“It is not a close call and we are on the cusp of losing it.”
DeVos said parents have flocked to alternative venues after seeing their children have difficulty with remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This last year has really laid bare many of the problems many families have experienced in a whole new way,” DeVos said.
Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster, said there has been a major shift with less satisfaction for families in public schooling over the past two years.
But Wilson told the group supporters need to rebrand this program because “school choice” has a negative connotation with too many voters.
An overwhelming majority do favor the concept of giving parents the “freedom” to choose schooling options for their children, Wilson said.
“The public does not necessarily blame teachers, even inadequate ones or teachers’ unions,” Wilson said.
Pompeo and DeVos both said American students are falling behind our economic competitor nations because public education remains a monopoly.
“This gap is at least in part because of the complete absence of freedom in school choice for families,” Pompeo said.
Critics warn it will raise property taxes
Critics of New Hampshire’s law warn this will lead to higher local property taxes as public school administrators deal with already declining enrollments, while still facing high, fixed costs.
In New Hampshire, this scholarship amount will range from $3,787 to $8,458 a year, which depends on the child’s background and the amount of per-pupil state aid given to support public schools in that community.
The vouchers are limited to families that earn up to 300% of the federal poverty level, which translates to $79,000 for a family of four.
Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said last week while he had no firm numbers, there could be “1,000 to 1,500” applications made for these scholarships in the next few months.
State officials said taxpayers will pick up the cost of these scholarships, but Edelblut maintains savings will come as each student leaves a public school, where the average cost is nearly $20,000 a year.
But National Education Association of New Hampshire President Megan Tuttle said Edelblut’s latest estimate was many more than what he told lawmakers in lobbying for this reform last spring.
“Now we learn that Governor Sununu and his Republican majorities in the State House will further hurt property taxpayers by having absolutely no checks and balances on how many of these scholarships are released. The first bill is not even due yet, and the Education Commissioner is telling us he expects to be $6.77 million dollars over budget,” Tuttle said.