What Do They Have Against Needy Students?

The wealthy have educational options. They can afford to send their children to private schools or move to expensive towns that have top-performing schools. However, few families have $10K + per child to spend on private school tuition. That restricts families to their zip-code assigned schools and limits their access to educational choices.

That’s where the tax-credit scholarship program makes the difference.

The education tax credit program is making a major impact in the lives of New Hampshire’s underprivileged children. In the first two years of operation more than 1500 children applied for this unique K-12 scholarship. Eighty-percent of the Network for Educational Opportunity (NEO) scholarship recipient families qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch federal program.

Why would some legislators and wealthy individuals want to take these options away from poor families? They have options for their families. Sen. Andrew Hosmer said his family sent their four children to a private religious school to get a “superior education.” Why does Sen. Hosmer and others like him want poor children to be stuck in schools that do not meet their needs?

Who would do such a thing? Take a look at the sponsors of SB 204, a bill that would repeal the education tax credit program.

Sen. Jeff Woodburn
Sen. Molly Kelly
Sen. David Watters
Sen. Donna Soucy
Rep. Susan Ford
Rep. Cindy Rosenwald
Rep. Marjorie Porter
Rep. Mary Jane Wallner

Another repeal bill was attempted in 2013, HB 370. This bill was sponsored by another list of legislators who have constituents who would benefit from educational options.

Rep. Mary Gile
Rep. Marjorie Porter
Rep. June Frazer
Rep. Mary Gorman
Rep. Carolyn Gargasz
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt
Rep. Peter Sullivan
Sen. Molly Kelly

This repeal bill passed the House of Representatives (a yea vote was a support of the repeal bill). Thankfully, it was defeated by a single vote in the Senate (a yea vote was to table the bill).

In January 2013, just a day after the tax-credit scholarship program opened, a lawsuit was filed claiming that the program is taxpayers’ money and is unconstitutional. The primary litigant was Bill Duncan, the same activist that was appointed to the state Board of Education by Governor Maggie Hassan in 2014. Others named on the lawsuit were the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The lawsuit was only partially harmful when a friendly state Superior Court judge ruled that the scholarships could not be used for tuition at religious schools. The judge cited the  Blaine amendment that prohibits state money to go to religious institutions. NEO had to return about half of the money donated and disappoint dozens of children who wanted an educational alternative.

The Network for Educational Opportunity (NEO), a registered 501c3, had several points to defend the scholarship program. NEO argued that the funding comes from donations that never enter the state treasury. Donations to NEO are like those to any other charity such as the Red Cross, the United Way, or a faith-based institution. Tax-credits are not the same as vouchers. Vouchers enter the state treasury and are then distributed. Tax-credits never enter the state’s accounts. Donors receive credits against the business profits tax and the business enterprise tax, or an individual’s taxes. This is consistent with other donations to 501c3 organizations.

With the help of the Institute for Justice, the Cato Institute, the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, and several dedicated school choice advocates, NEO challenged the ruling up to the NH Supreme Court. In August 2014 the court ruled that the litigants had no standing. This means that the litigants could not prove that they were negatively impacted. The litigants’ only remaining recourse is to take the lawsuit to the US Supreme Court, but similar tax-credit programs in other states have been found Constitutional, so this is an unlikely avenue for them.

The Cato Institute produced a documentary about the NEO scholarship program, recipient families, and the challenges in brining this opportunity to NH’s needy children.

The other avenue opponents may pursue is to file another repeal bill. This is exactly what they will do every couple of years. They want to discourage donations. They want to contain the impact the tax credit scholarship can have on NH’s underprivileged children, but why? What is particularly puzzling is that many of these legislators come from some of New Hampshire’s more economically depressed districts. Their own constituents are the ones most in need of educational options and the tax credit scholarship.

And that is exactly what is happening again in SB 204. The legislators and activists who want to keep poor kids disadvantaged are at it again.

The Senate Education Committee will have a public hearing on SB 204 on Tuesday, February 10th at 10:00am in Legislative Office Building room 103. Tell the them that underprivileged children deserve an equal opportunity at a great education. Tell them that the tax-credit scholarship program is a proven program that helps students. Tell them that private donations are not the state’s money. Tell the Senate Education Committee to defeat SB 204 and issue an Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) recommendation.

Senate Education Committee
John Reagan, Chairman
Nancy Stiles, Vice Chairman
Kevin Avard
Molly Kelly
David Watters

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