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GOP majority in Senate blocks bill to repeal N.H.’s new education tax credit program

New Hampshire’s new education tax credit program is safe, for now.

The Democratic-controlled House voted in February to repeal the program, which was enacted last year by the then-Republican-controlled Legislature. But the Republican majority in the Senate yesterday blocked the bill from going to Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat who wants to repeal the program.

The Senate voted along party lines, 13-11, to table the bill.

Any motion at a future Senate session to take the bill up for a final vote would require a majority. Otherwise, the legislation will die on the table when the Senate adjourns in June.

“It is disappointing that a majority of the New Hampshire Senate have decided to stand by the misguided school voucher program,” Hassan said in a statement after the vote.

‘Poor children,’ ‘tax policy’

Under the program, a company can get a credit to
lower their state tax bill by donating to nonprofit organizations. Those organizations then provide scholarships to help families pay tuition at private, religious or out-of-district public schools, or to defray the cost of homeschooling.

The program got under way Jan. 1. More than $134,000 had been donated as of April 10, far below this year’s cap of $4 million, according to the Department of Revenue Administration.

On Feb. 20, the House voted, 188-151, to repeal the program, sending the bill to the Senate for yesterday’s debate.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, argued the program will help low-income families.

“This is about helping poor children,” he said. “Killing this bill is giving families that don’t have a lot of money the opportunity to make sure their children get a good education. School choice isn’t about those just with the financial means.”

Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said the nascent program needs time to get going.

“Let’s give this an opportunity to work,” Bradley said. “If it doesn’t work, people will be back, either trying to fix it or repeal it. But we simply do not have enough information at this point to take such a precipitous vote, as this would be, while hundreds of parents are looking for opportunity for their children.”

But Hollis Democratic Sen. Peggy Gilmour described the program as “poor tax policy” that lacks accountability and adds unwanted complexity to the state tax code.

And Sen. David Pierce, an Etna Democrat, said he opposes the program because it directs money to religious education.

“Many people, most people, in this room have probably never been the target or the brunt of religion. I, growing up gay, have been . . . targeted by religion – being singled out in church, being singled out at Sunday school,” Pierce said. “Now, if these families want to send their kids to a church school, if these families want to educate their kids at home and they want to tell them that God hates fags or that interracial couples should not be able to marry, that is perfectly their right to do. But what this bill does is, it requires me to pay them to do it.”

Two Republican senators who voted against the tax credit program last year voted yesterday to table the repeal bill.

Sen. Nancy Stiles of Hampton had previously announced she would oppose the repeal effort, saying there wasn’t enough data to justify pulling the plug so soon.

Sen. Bob Odell of Lempster voted to table the bill but said he doesn’t know how he would have voted on the repeal bill itself. He didn’t rule out voting for the bill if supporters can round up 13 votes for it. (He would be the 12th.)

“We can have further discussions,” Odell said. “If the vote comes along, it can be voted off the table.”

Other efforts

Despite yesterday’s vote, the debate over the tax credit program isn’t over.

The repeal bill could be removed from the table for a vote at a Senate session later this spring.

In addition, the budget passed by the House earlier this month includes a similar provision to repeal the tax credit program. The Senate Finance Committee is working on its version of the budget now.

And a lawsuit was filed this year in Strafford County Superior Court challenging the program as unconstitutional because, opponents said, it violates the separation of church and state. A hearing in that case is scheduled for next Friday.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Legacy Comments13

As the article states, this plan is already being challenged in court as an unconstitutional state support of religion. If the courts rule that it is, then under the new Jack Kimball rule, shouldn't all the senators who voted against repeal be removed from office and be subject to criminal penalties?

Representative Sanborn is like a case of herpes, no sooner does Webster get rid of him that he pops up in Bedford. It must be an intelligence resistant strain. But the repeal of this law is irrelevant. No matter what you call this credit, it still directs tax money to religious schools - contrary to the NH Constitution and US Constitution. But then we all know that that doesn't matter because it's only the 2nd Amendment that is sacred to all of the GOP Constitutional Hypocrites And Andy, all I can say is that at least you no longer misrepresent the citizens of Webster, good riddance.

Our tax money already goes to fund religious schools through Pell Grants So should we stop Pell Grants also?.

I lost my reply when I hit Submit for the umpteenth time. But in a nutshell - if Pell Grants applied to K-12 - I would say yes. This law is just a thinly veiled attempt to siphon money away from Public Schools because the core issue of addressing present problems eludes Concord. It apparently eludes everyone due to Political Correctness issues. The bottom line is you can't legislate parental involvement or outlaw stupidity. If the parents don't care about education, do you seriously think the child will be any different? Do you think a young child can learn to read if the only place they see a book is at school? You are not going to fix this by subsidizing private schools, that is simply ignoring the problem. If you want to use corporate tax incentives, why not use them for after school learning programs, extra-curricular educational opportunities, anything to make children realize that getting an education is in their best interest.

I agree, Mauser, you cannot legislate parental involvement or even human behavior, yet our school system is under the impression they can. And that same school system has decided to give lousy parents a pass. They pretty much tell the deadbeat parents they are required to do nothing, the school system will take over. So folks want an option out of that system. That includes many low income folks who want their kids in private schools with the idea that if their kids are surrounded in a school system where the norm is to achieve, they will have a better chance of breaking the poverty cycle. Washington DC is an example of vouchers that have worked.

Rabbit, I didn't understand you line " yet our school system is under the impression they can. " Also just where does the comment about giving lousy parents a pass and requiring deadbeats to do nothing come from. What is a school supposed to do about parents that should never have been parents? Why not let public schools operate with the same rules that private schools have. If you are disruptive and refuse to do any work - you are outta there. What we need is to get psychologists out of the business of education and make educators just that. But.......... just who would end up being responsible for these children's well being? A no win situation, but lets place the blame clearly where it belongs, with the family.

Sorry Mauser1 - Courts have already upheld the tax credit as constitutional

New Hampshire courts have yet to rule, so your comment is premature.

do you anticipate that the NH courts will overrule US Supreme Courts decisions?

It's sad that you have a state senator, Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, freely saying “Killing this bill is giving families that don’t have a lot of money the opportunity to make sure their children get a good education". If he feels the state is not offering "a good education", why is he not fighting so EVERY child gets a good education???

Because he doesn't give a damn about all children, he only cares about his own. This stupid "take from the public coffers and put into private coffers" bill should be repealed.

Responsible Republicans again have the wisdom and courage to buffer the daily onslaught from the disastrous democrats

Did I read the same letter. Calling Andy Sanborn a republican is an insult to true republicans.

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