If you’re looking for an example of out-of-control government corruption, check out the new Republican school voucher program sapping millions from New Hampshire taxpayers. There’s nothing conservative about this partisan boondoggle. Despite overwhelming opposition from citizens across the Granite State, the proposal for “Education Freedom Accounts” exposes the state to more than $70 million a year in new costs. Last week while speaking to the Executive Council, Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut confirmed that his right-wing scheme will cost 5,000 percent more than he estimated back in June. Yes, you read that correctly. More disturbingly, the enormous amount of taxpayer money will largely go to people who home school or already pay tuition to send their kids to private and religious schools. The state has an obligation to fund public schools, not to fund private alternatives. But now your tax dollars are being used to pay private school tuition bills while at the same time the state’s financial support for public schools goes down and continues to be the lowest in the nation.

How did this happen? Rather than listening to the hundreds of Granite Staters who spoke in opposition to the most expansive voucher program ever proposed in the country, Republicans decided to jam it into the state budget and put the cost on the backs of property taxpayers across the state. Republicans, including Gov. Chris Sununu and Commissioner Edelblut low-balled the number of students who would apply for an education freedom account in order to justify passing the program. Now, Granite State taxpayers may have to pick up the tab for nearly three-quarters of New Hampshire students in public, private and home schools who are eligible to receive a check for up to $8,457 from the state’s education trust fund — the same fund that provides money to our public schools.

How many students will take the check? For students who currently attend public schools, it’s a tough choice. Give up my public school, leave my friends and teachers, arrange for transportation, and come up with the additional money to cover the costs for tuition, books and other materials that exceed the value of the voucher. That’s how it is in other states. In states that have vouchers, they are not a very popular program.

But the program here in New Hampshire is different. Unlike other states, nearly 15,000 students already going to private schools and being home schooled are eligible for that big check too. To trick legislators into thinking this wouldn’t amount to much, Commissioner Edelblut used data from other states to estimate that only four of these students would take the check in year one, ramping up to 102 kids in year two. That’s out of 15,000 eligible students who have already made the decision to leave public school and are paying tuition and other costs. Really, only four out of 15,000 students would take the big check?

So, how many students did take that big check? This year it is 1,600 kids — way more than the Commissioner’s low-ball estimate. In fact, the non-partisan legislative budget assistant pegs the state’s financial exposure at more than $70 million per year just as the state’s two-year budget slashes funding to public schools by the same amount. And with all this public money going to private schools, what provisions did the Republicans insist upon to assure the money is spent on education? Nothing. That’s right, nothing.

The legislative budget assistant makes it clear with this statement: “The net impact would be increased state education trust fund expenditures and decreased local adequacy grant revenue.” That’s $70 million from the education trust fund not going to public schools, not improving student equity and not going to property tax relief. Not to mention the 10 percent cut that goes to the private contractor in charge of this scheme who coincidentally has both current and former Republican state representatives on their board. C’mon, Granite Staters know a scam when they see it.

The writers are state representatives. Myler is a Contoocook Democrat, and Luneau is a Hopkinton Democrat.

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