… or, “It’s 5 p.m.; do you know where your representatives are?”
After an hour of debate at the end of a long day, the New Hampshire House today voted 188-151 to pass HB 370. This bill to repeal the new education tax credit now goes to the Senate. Most Democrats favored repeal, and most Republicans opposed it – hardly a surprise. I’ve addressed the bill at length in earlier posts. The debate broke no new ground. In fact, many seats were empty during the floor speeches, as though a number of reps took a break while knowing exactly what was going to be said.
A few names ought to be named, so that praise and blame go where they belong.
Rep. David Hess (R-Hooksett) led the defenders of the tax credit in floor debate. He was joined by Kris Roberts (D-Keene), Pam Tucker (R-Greenland), Rick Ladd (R-Haverhill), and Laurie Sanborn (R-Bedford) in calling for defeat of the bill so that the tax credit and associated scholarship program could continue. Roberts, a Democrat, gets extra credit in my book for standing up for school choice. That’s not a popular view with House leadership this year.
Arguments on the other side began with Mary Gile (D-Concord), who was followed by Lorrie Carey (D-Boscawen), Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsboro), Susan Almy (D-Lebanon), and Steve Vaillancourt (R-Manchester). “Elections have consequences,” thundered Rep. Vaillancourt. I’m not sure if he was gloating or just being loud. In either case, he had a point. All of these speakers beginning with Rep. Gile conflated “voucher” with “tax credit.” That’s inaccurate, of course, but they all know that “voucher” is a dog-whistle term that’s useful for calling together people who are skeptical of nontraditional education.
Seven Republicans bucked their caucus and supported repeal: Vaillancourt, Carolyn Gargasz of Hollis, Priscilla Lockwood of Canterbury, Jeff Oligny of Plaistow, Timothy Copeland of Stratham, John Sytek of Salem, and James Grenier of Goshen.
There were five Democrats who voted to kill the bill and keep the education tax credit going: Roberts, Michael Garcia of Nashua, Jean Jeudy of Manchester, Tim O’Flaherty of Manchester, and Joel Winters of Nashua. Good for them.
Kate Baker of NEO was smiling after the vote. “Did you see those numbers?” More reps opposed repeal than she expected. She appears ready for the Senate hearing, whenever it may be.
More than 40 representatives are listed on today’s roll call as “not voting.” That’s different from an excused absence. Some may have just ducked the vote, although the lateness of the hour may have forced some early departures for family or work obligations. (These reps get $100 a year, remember.)
No date has been set for the Senate hearing on the bill.
The New Hampshire House will vote next week on HB 370, repeal of the education tax credit. The House Ways and Means committee voted 10-7 to pass the repeal. The minority report by Rep. Laurie Sanborn (R-Bedford) is worth quoting in full.
“This bill repeals a recently passed scholarship program for lower income families which enables them choice when their child would perform better in a learning environment different from the one they are obligated to attend due to their zip code. The education tax credit bill was well vetted in extensive subcommittee meetings to ensure its constitutionality and effectiveness in helping those that need it, while maintaining our commitment to excellence in the public school system. Caps were placed on the total financial impact on public schools to 1/3 of one percent of the total education budget. The law was also carefully constructed to hold a school district harmless financially if more students leave than would be typical with regular relocation and attrition. The credit has only been in effect for one month. Just the mere mention of a potential repeal has caused potential business participants to be reluctant to contribute to the scholarship program. The minority believes it is imperative that we give this scholarship program – and the children it is aimed at helping – a chance to succeed and keep our promise to the hundreds of families who have already applied for this assistance.”
Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another. ~G.K. Chesterton
Dominique Vazquez-Vanasse has two little boys, and as a busy mom she doesn’t normally spend her day waiting to stand in front of microphones and talk to a roomful of strangers. Neither does Kim Nichols. Only a special occasion can rate that kind of interruption of family routine. January 31 was such a day, as a legislative committee took up a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s Educational Opportunity Tax Credit. That endangered credit funds a scholarship program from which Dominique’s and Kim’s children might benefit.
If Rep. Mary Gile (D-Concord) gets her way, the tax credit will be repealed by June.
“Repealing this would directly affect many children, including my own,” said Vasquez-Vanasse. Nichols is a single mother whose son was ill-served by his area’s public school but is now thriving in a private school. “I pay for his education by giving up virtually everything else.”
Gile was unmoved. She called credit “public money,” adding “This is poor fiscal policy and poor educational policy.” In Gile’s world, a credit is a voucher is an unconstitutional attack on public education. Gile set the tone for a nearly four-hour hearing before the New Hampshire House Ways and Means committee, during which parents who were new to politics and had taken the day off work to fight the repeal bill got a serious lesson in civics.
The endangered credit is supposed to go to businesses that donate to a scholarship fund for the benefit of children grades K-12, for use at the school of a parent’s choice. Last year’s overwhelmingly Republican legislature passed the tax credit law, with an effective date of January 1, 2013. A funny thing happened on the way to January 1: the November election flipped the House. Among the electoral casualties were many representatives who support school choice and had voted for the credit. Giles and seven co-sponsors swiftly filed their repeal bill, HB 370.
Kate Baker is executive director of the state’s Network for Educational Opportunity (NEO), the 501(c)3 charitable organization that was to administer the scholarship fund. She is now in the position of soliciting contributions from businesses whose owners know perfectly well that the tax credit they’re supposed to get is in danger of being repealed even before it can be applied. Baker says that in the first four weeks of January, donations amounted to about $126,000. “That’s not bad,” she says with a smile. Asked by a reporter before the January 31 hearing how much the repeal effort has hurt donations, Baker paused before replying, “It’s given us a lot of publicity.”
No scholarships have been distributed, and in fact none were scheduled to be awarded this academic year. This was supposed to be a year to build up the fund. The mere threat of tax credit repeal has slowed the process. That’s fine with the sponsors of HB 370.
Their testimony to Ways and Means was persuasive only to those accepting the fallacy that a tax credit (in this case, a partial offset of a business’s charitable contribution) is identical to a voucher (money or a credit given directly to a student’s family). The error was repeated too many times by too many people at the hearing to be a random misstatement. Another term that repeal proponents used a lot that day was “diversion of educational funds,” as though any charitable donation by a business means depriving the state of operating funds.
Gile incorrectly stated that NEO’s people “all live outside of New Hampshire,” which undoubtedly came as a surprise to Baker, a New Hampshire resident. “We should not be subject to forces that are here today and gone tomorrow.” One wonders of one of the “forces” to which she refers is last year’s Republican legislative majority.
Co-sponsor Rep. June Frazer (D-Concord), a lifelong educator, cited five “reliable sources,” including the U.S. Department of Education and the National Education Association teachers’ union, whose studies purport to show that student assessments do not show an appreciable difference between public and private education. She cited a New York Times editorial (another reliable source?) saying that public money finds a “back door” to private schools, amounting to a church-state entanglement. She added, “I have lumped vouchers and tax credit programs together. Both use tax money.” Rep. Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsboro) told the committee about the “questionable science and math” to which students might be exposed if parents rely on parochial-school or homeschool curricula. Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R-Manchester) gave the shortest testimony in favor of repeal, calling the tax credit “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Not all legislators agree with HB 370. Rep. David Murotake (R-Nashua), a member of the Nashua school board, testified that a state-chartered school, the Academy for Science and Design, prompted the Nashua district to promote “positive changes to the way teachers teach in our schools. Just as charter schools are one form of school choice, so is the education tax credit law. Giving parents an ability to choose their child’s school, whether public or private, drives the normally monopolistic school system to innovate and compete to attract students.”
Sen. Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton), who opposed the tax credit when it was passed last year, now opposes repeal. “Give [the tax credit] time. You don’t have any data. When you do, you can decide if it’s a good idea or a bad idea.”
Dominique Vazquez-Vanasse, like the other parents in Concord on January 31, had to wait a long time to testify. By 3:00 p.m., a migraine was setting in. Her sons were a bit fidgety after hours in the hard seats in Representatives’ Hall. Legislative protocol lets legislators and ex-legislators speak before the general public gets a chance. Some of the parents who had come to oppose HB 370 had to leave by mid-afternoon to pick up kids or go to work. Finally, though, the Ways and Means members got to hear from parents.
The Ways and Means committee will vote shortly on HB 370, with a full House vote expected by the end of February.