Dispute continues over implementation of education tax credit law
A plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the state’s education tax credit law has filed a complaint with the Department of Revenue Administration, alleging that the Network for Educational Opportunity is not following the law as it awards scholarships for the coming school year.
Bill Duncan, founder of Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, is challenging the number of students who will be receiving scholarships this coming school year. Of the roughly 100 students receiving scholarships under the program, 15 are public school students switching to private schools, about 35 are already in private schools and the other 50 are home-schooled students who get a few hundred dollars to help offset costs, said Kate Baker, director of the Network for Educational Opportunity, the primary scholarship organization.
Duncan’s dispute is over a piece of the law that says 70 percent of scholarships must go to public school students, whose departure will reduce the state’s adequacy payments to the public school that child is leaving. Duncan said this means 70 percent of all scholarship recipients must be public school students, which is not the case if only 15 of 100 students are leaving public schools. Baker, on the other hand, said the law means 70 percent of the money awarded must go to public school students switching to private schools.
Representatives from the Department of Education, which is administering the law with the Department of Revenue Administration, did not have a clear answer
on which interpretation is
“Because of the perceived ambiguity, we will confer with Revenue Administration
and seek a legal interpretation,” said Judy Fillion, director of the Bureau of Credentialing at the Department of Education, in an email yesterday morning. As of press time, neither the Department of Education nor the Department of Revenue Administration provided that legal interpretation.
Baker, of the Network
for Educational Opportunity, said Duncan is ignoring the facts of the law, but did not give specifics to back up her assertion.
“Critics of scholarships for New Hampshire’s neediest families get their usual ‘F’ grade on the facts but they get an ‘A+’ for the harm they’re doing to students who want improved educational settings and outcomes,” she said in an email.
Duncan is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the education tax credit program, which was adopted by the Legislature in 2012. Under the law, businesses that donate to a scholarship organization can receive up to 85 percent of the donation back in tax credits. The money is used to give scholarships, averaging $2,500, toward private school tuition.
In June, a superior court judge ruled the scholarships couldn’t go toward tuition at religious schools. The case has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, but a date for hearing the appeal has not been set. The state attorney general’s office and the Network for Educational Opportunity are seeking to reverse the lower court’s decision, while Duncan and the other plaintiffs are seeking to repeal the law entirely.