Politicizing the ETC Program, SB 318

Some threats are overt and easy to see and understand. Others are more obtuse and subtle. Whereas HB 632, the bill that would completely repeal the Education Tax Credit program, is an blatant attack, SB 318, is the other kind that might be easy to miss until it is too late.

There are several concerns with SB 318. Fundamentally, it adds public-school projects to the Education Tax Credit (ETC) program. We might not be against utilizing state tax credits to fund public-school projects, but it does not fit in the nature, process, or intent of the Education Tax Credit Scholarship law which created the program for individual student tuition scholarships or homeschool scholarships. The Education Tax Credit Scholarship program is a school-choice mechanism in place in 18 states with 800 operating scholarship organizations providing tuition scholarships for low- and moderate-income children. We have two scholarship organizations operating in NH and they have been growing every year to assist needy students. More scholarship organizations could open at any time and we expect the available tax credits to be fully utilized. The NH ETC program can already offer scholarships to students to attend out-of-district public schools, and through the homeschool scholarship any public or private educational program that charges tuition. This bill also removes the ability for the NH Department of Revenue to approve or deny the scholarship organizations, a process which is based on meeting required metrics outlined in statute. Instead, the bill politicizes the regulating board of the Education Tax Credit program. This management commission, as defined in SB 318, consists of members from NH School Administrators Association, NH School Boards Association, and others. The named organizations are highly political and have paid lobbyists that actively work against educational options. This would greatly undermine the purpose of the ETC program, which is to support low- and moderate-income children to access educational opportunities.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing for SB 318 on Wednesday, March 13th. Below is our testimony which focused on the politicized management commission.

To: Senate Ways and Means Committee

From: Michelle Levell, Director

Re: SB 318 relative to donations to the education tax credit program.

Please reject Senate Bill 318.

Within SB 318, the proposed management commission, due to the appointed members, politicizes the scholarship organization approval process and this new “politicized management commission” could block any private and homeschool scholarship organizations, potentially leaving the existing 413 Education Tax Credit scholarship children without their existing support.

Qualifying students seek alternative educational opportunities due to issues with bullying, academics, special needs, or a combination of these issues. These lower-income children who are suffering from bullying and academic issues should not be collateral damage to bitter partisanship.

The scholarship organization approval and the education tax credit approval process under NH Department of Revenue is currently non-political and objective — approval is contingent on meeting mathematical metrics in the law — and should remain as such.

You can see this clearly in SB 318, Section XVII which says:

“Scholarship organization” means a charitable organization incorporated or qualified to do business in this state that:

(d)  Has been approved by the [department of revenue administration] management commission for the purpose of issuing private school and home school scholarships as provided in this chapter.

Thus SB 318 removes the ability for the Department of Revenue (DRA) to approve the scholarship organizations. That authority properly belongs with the DRA because the scholarship organizations’ approval is based on actual data (in numbers) and the mathematical analysis of the data as reported on the “Scholarship Organization Report”(s), the ED-05(s,) that are analyzed by the DRA, then published and publicly available on the DRA website.

Meeting the metrics in the ETC law via the numerical reporting on the Scholarship Organization Report, the ED-05, equals either approval or denial of the scholarship organizations in each subsequent year. If that authority is taken away from DRA, then who will do the calculations to ensure the scholarship organizations are in compliance with the law?

No one on the proposed regulating board in SB 318 is a Department of Revenue representative, an accountant, or a CPA. Instead they are members of political groups, many with published opinions against school choice.

You can see this clearly in SB 318 New Section 9, the creation of the Education Tax Credit Management Commission. To this point:

  • One member is appointed by the president of the senate. Current Senate President Donna Soucy voted against adding interest and dividends tax credit to help to grow the ETC program.
  • Two members are appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives. Current Speaker of the House, Steve Shurtleff, also voted against adding interest and dividends tax credit to the ETC.
  • One member is appointed by the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire. David Juvet, the Director of Policy at the BIA, is also is a member of the board of Reaching Higher NH which is an anti-school choice organization with lobbyists that attended each hearing on SB 193 which would have created education savings accounts (allowed the state adequacy dollars to follow the child) for low-income students.
  • One member is appointed by the New Hampshire School Administrators Association which is another anti-school choice organization. Carl Ladd, the Executive Director, in their own newsletter Spring of 2018, urged voting against SB 193.
  • One member appointed by the New Hampshire School Boards Association, is another anti-school choice organization. Barrett Christina, Executive Director, even wrote a letter to the Concord Monitor urging voting against SB 193.
  • One member appointed by the Parent Information Center. Anti-school choice – Bonnie Dunham testified against SB 193 and thus was against low-income parents of special needs children being able to have funds to access private schools voluntarily.
  • One member appointed by the New Hampshire Association of CTE directors. This organization understands managing CTE programs, but may not understand the ETC program which is a private school-choice program.
  • One member appointed by the New Hampshire Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This organization understands managing public charter schools, but also may not understand the ETC program which is a private school-choice program.

Do not support SB 318. The proposed management commission politicizes the scholarship organization approval process. This kind of vindictive, partisan politics has no place in our public-policy process.

The Education Tax Credit Scholarship program is the only private school-choice mechanism in the state and should remain intact, non-political, and as-is to continue to assist our state’s most vulnerable students.

We encourage people to contact the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the prime sponsor, Senator David Watters, immediately as they may vote on the bill at any time, possibly at their next executive session on Wednesday, March 20th. Brief phone calls are most effective; personal stories can be particularly compelling. Mention if you are a constituent. Their emails are below for an easy copy/paste.

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