School Choice event at Radisson, as board splits on opposition to SB 193

Gov. Chris Sununu

MANCHESTER, NH – Gov. Chris Sununu will attend an event Tuesday in Manchester sponsored by the organization lobbying in the state legislature for education savings accounts (ESAs). Sununu strongly supports SB 193, which he called “groundbreaking legislation.” 

“Celebrate National School Choice Week” will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel. It is being promoted as a family-friendly fun event to children and parents, with entertainment and student performances. Dr. Marco Clark, Founder and CEO of the Richard Wright Public Charter School  and critic of public education, will speak at the event. Sununu is scheduled to deliver remarks at 4 p.m.

The event will be hosted by the Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire partnered with New Hampshire Catholic Schools, Granite State Christian Schools Association, Granite State Home Educators, and School Choice for NH.

On Monday, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation for “National School Choice Week.”

Mayor, School Board, and superintendent oppose ESA bill

The Finance Committee of the state legislature is currently considering SB 193. The controversial bill would establish an Education Savings Account (ESA) program to enable the transfer of public funds from public schools to parents, who can spend it on private schools or services related to homeschooling.

School Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas

Mayor Joyce Craig spoke to the Finance Committee on January 16 in opposition to SB 193. She said the bill would harm the Manchester School District: “If just one quarter of one percent of our students leave, or 35 students, the Manchester School district will lose over $400,000. That’s a big deal.”

“Our district would need to consider significant cuts to address this loss. These cuts could mean eliminating course offerings such as Spanish at the middle schools, that we were finally able to bring back last year. Cuts to staffing levels, which would increase our class sizes; or changes to policies related to bus routes or athletics including pay-to-play. Direct student services would be impacted,” Craig said.

Manchester’s Board of School Committee voted on Jan. 15 to communicate to the Finance Committee their opposition to SB 193. Dr. Bolgan Vargas, superintendent of schools, sent a letter to the committee opposing SB 193.

During its Jan. 22 meeting the school board revisited SB 193, ultimately voting in a split decision to have Vargas draft an email reiterating the district’s opposition to the bill. Vice Chair Art Beaudry pushed the board to vote in favor of  the measure so that it would arrive in time for a Jan. 23 committee work session. The vote was 7-6 with Ross Terrio abstaining. School Board member Katie Desroches absent. Voting in favor of sending the email were Beaudry, Nancy Tessier, David Scannell, Mary Georges, Leslie Want, Dan Bergeron and Mayor Joyce Craig. Voting against were Rich Girard, Jimmy Lehoux, John Avard, Sarah Ambrogi, Lisa Freeman, and Kelly Thomas.

Several board members, including Terrio, Lehoux and Avard, voiced dismay over not having a clearer explanation of the impact of the bill. Freeman, who also serves as a state rep Beaudry pressed the board to action, saying that timing was critical.

Editor Carol Robidoux contributed the school board update to this report.