A good day in court for NH parents and students

When New Hampshire passed an education tax credit law in 2012, I wrote about it because so many of the people I saw standing up for life were also standing up for the right of parents to choose the best educational setting for their children. The law was challenged by several parties, among them Bill Duncan, who was a private citizen when he filed suit but is now on the New Hampshire board of education. The state Supreme Court ruled today that Mr. Duncan and his co-plaintiffs lack standing to bring suit. That means the education tax credit and the scholarship fund that benefits from it are intact for now.

Dominique Vasquez-Vanasse can breathe a sigh of relief. I wrote about her in Educational Opportunity Scholarships: the view from Concord. The many schools that are opening throughout the state can let parents know that educational opportunity scholarships are available. I wrote about them in …The View from Elm Street.

Among the plaintiffs’ claims in the case that was dismissed today: the law violates the New Hampshire constitution’s provision barring state funds from going to religious schools. That’s the Blaine Amendment, dating from the 1870s, a time of nativism. Blaine Amendments taint many state constitutions. They are relics of anti-religious bigotry that ought to be obsolete in the 21st century. Look instead at the original language of the New Hampshire constitution, which speaks of a responsibility to “cherish” education, whether public or private.

But the plaintiffs are wrong in another sense, which the court chose not to address today. They hold that the education tax credit is actually a voucher, giving state funds to private schools. Wrong. The tax credit is an incentive for private businesses that choose to donate to a nonprofit scholarship fund to benefit low- and middle-income students in grades K through 12. No public money changes hands. Governor Hassan today issued a fuming statement after the Court’s decision was announced. She clings desperately to the error that the credit is a voucher, even heading her statement with “statement on voucher tax credit ruling.”

I expect more from a literate woman.

Long hence, when the only trace of Hassan’s tenure in office will be a portrait somewhere in the State House, educational opportunity scholarships can still be helping New Hampshire’s children. Let’s hope so. The challenges aren’t over. But today is a good day.

NH Senate Tables HB 370; Education Tax Credit Intact

Republicans in the New Hampshire Senate today derailed an attempt to repeal the state’s education tax credit. On a straight party-line vote, senators voted 13-11 to table HB 370. A two-thirds vote would be required to remove the bill from the table, and further action is unlikely.

I’ve written about the bill and people affected by it here, here, and here. New Hampshire’s education tax credit is available to businesses that donate to a private scholarship fund to benefit students in grades K-12. The scholarships give lower-income families a greater range of educational choices. No state money is given to these families, and the program is therefore not a voucher.

The bill’s docket shows an interesting sequence of events on the Senate floor today, and at this writing the actual roll calls have not yet been linked. The Health, Education, and Human Services committee’s recommendation to kill (ITL) the bill was the motion that drove the day’s debate, but that motion was not acted upon. Instead, after long and emotional debate, Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) moved to table the bill. That motion was adopted 14-10, and I don’t know the name of the lone Democrat who voted with the majority. Sen. Bradley then moved reconsideration, as a parliamentary maneuver, and a second vote on the tabling motion was taken. That was the 13-11 vote that decided the matter.

Senators like Lou D’Allesandro and Molly Kelly who have spoken with passion and eloquence about trusting women and valuing choice when it comes to abortion took a different approach to the education tax credit. “Choose what?” has always been my response to right-to-choose rhetoric. For New Hampshire’s Democratic senators, trusting women to choose apparently finds its limit in education policy. After all, a lot of moms have applied for these education-choice scholarships for their children.

The Network for Educational Opportunity, which administers the scholarship find in New Hampshire, had this post on its Facebook page after the vote: “We want to thank ALL of you wonderful people for your support through this legislative battle. Your calls, emails, letters to the editor of papers, Facebook shares, attendance at hearings, prayers, well wishes, and notes of encouragement all helped us win today.”

Governor Maggie Hassan opposes the tax credit and had promised to sign repeal legislation. Her official statement after the vote today referred to a “misguided voucher program,” despite the fact that the tax credit law has no relation to vouchers.

Senate Committee refuses to back HB 370; full Senate will vote soon

A NH Senate committee yesterday said no to the repeal of New Hampshire’s tax credit for businesses that donate to a scholarship program for the benefit of K-12 students. The school choice measure was enacted January 1 by action of the previous legislature, and its repeal via HB 370 was a priority for the new Democratic majority.

An earlier post (now removed) said that the full Senate had voted. That was incorrect, and I regret the error. The Senate will vote on HB 370 later this month. For now, the bill is one step closer to being killed, and the tax credit for now stays in place.

Ed Tax Credit Repeal Gets OK in NH House

… 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.

NH House chamber during HB 370 debate
NH House chamber during HB 370 debate

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.



Rep. Sanborn to colleagues: “Keep our Promise” re Ed Tax Credit

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.”

See House Calendar, page 275.

Supporters of the tax credit plan to be in the House gallery as the vote is cast on February 20.