Union Leader: Senate panel votes 3-2 to keep education tax credit
CONCORD – A bill to repeal the state’s newly established education tax credit program did not find favor with the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee Tuesday.
The committee voted 3-2 down party lines to kill House Bill 370, which is expected to come before the full Senate April 18.
The new scholarship program allows businesses to donate and receive a business tax credit.
The program had been praised as a way to ensure all children would receive the best education possible and decried as a back-door voucher plan that would take money away from public schools as private and religious schools cherry-pick the best and least expensive students to educate.
After the vote, Sen. Molly Kelly, D-Keene, said while at a time of record budget cuts to public colleges and universities it is irresponsible to use public money to fund private schools.
“This bill repeals a private school voucher program that diverts public funds away from our public schools and directs private, nonprofit corporations to allocate taxpayer dollars with no oversight or accountability,” said Kelly. “This so-called ‘education tax credit’ is in direct conflict with the N.H. Constitution by using public funds to pay for religious schools and limits state funds for public school districts, while downshifting the cost of reduced adequacy payments to local communities and property taxpayers.”
The bill is being challenged in Strafford County Superior Court. In the case, Duncan et al v. the State of New Hampshire, the plaintiffs claim the program is unconstitutional because it gives state money to religious schools.
Gov. Maggie Hassan did not include the program in her proposed budget nor other tax credits passed last session by the Republican-controlled Legislature but that do not go into effect until the next fiscal year which begins July 1.
Others praised the committee’s vote.
“This vote is a positive one for all the families across our state seeking to provide the best education possible for their children,” said Greg Moore of Americans for Prosperity – NH. “We commend the members of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee who voted today for what is in the best long-term interest of our state and our families rather than searching for a short-term revenue source.”
State Republican Party chair Jennifer Horn also praised the committee’s vote. “Senate Republicans were right to recognize that education choice is about parents being able to find the best possible educational opportunities for their children, regardless of family income,” Horn said. “(Tuesday’s) vote will help to protect a law that has leveled the playing field, offering even our poorest students the opportunity to access the educational environment that is best for them.”
While the bill has passed the House, the House Finance Committee also included the repeal provisions in its version of the state operating budget it passed last week.
The bill faces an uphill climb in the Senate after Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, announced she would not support the repeal of the law passed last year.
She along with Sen. Bob Odell, R-Lempster, voted to uphold then-Gov. John Lynch’s veto of the bill last year.
Supporters of the repeal had counted on the support of both Stiles and Odell to pass the Senate, which is split 13-11 in favor of Republicans, but with Stiles’ statement, the vote would be 12-12.
Stiles is chair of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee and voted to recommend the bill be killed.
“It was a misguided venture then and the same is true today,” said Kelly about the Legislature’s override of Lynch’s veto. “A bad policy is bad policy, no matter if it’s law or not.”
Last week, former House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, filed a brief in the Strafford County Superior Court case saying the suit seeks to deny children from low- and moderate-income families the opportunity to receive private scholarships funded by the education tax credits.
Under the program, students can receive up to a $2,500 scholarship to attend private or parochial schools. Home-schooled students can receive up to a $750 scholarship.
School districts losing students because of the program also lose an average $4,100 per student in state education aid.
The program is capped at $4 million the first year and can grow each year thereafter, although less than $134,000 has been donated to the program to date.
Repealing the program is a top priority of House and Senate Democrats.