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Editorial: Tax credit law is nothing but a trick

For centuries, ancient alchemists searched for a Philosopher’s Stone capable of turning lead into gold. Similarly, school choice proponents spent years searching for a way to get around constitutional prohibitions against turning public money into support for religious schools. They found it, not in the form of a unicorn’s horn or some other magical substance, but in a simple accounting trick. Hijack money meant for the state before it gets there and, in their view, it’s no longer public money. That’s what the state’s 2012 tuition tax credit law does, a law whose constitutionality was argued last week before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The law allows companies that contribute to a scholarship program created to subsidize a qualifying student’s education in a private school, whether secular, sectarian, or at home, to deduct 85 percent of the donation from money they would otherwise owe the state in business profit taxes. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority upheld a similar voucher program in use in Ohio. New Hampshire’s constitution, however, is very clear on the subject.

In Article 83, it specifically states that “no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of institutions of any religious sect or denomination.” Clearly, public money should not be used to support religious teaching or a curriculum based upon it – such as creationism, which contends that the Earth is just thousands of years old – instead of real biology and geology.

Let’s hope, for the sake of public education and constitutional principles, that the New Hampshire Supreme Court sees the accounting trick for what it is, an end run around the constitution. A statement made by Justice Carol Ann Conboy suggests that the court won’t fall for fiscal legerdemain. “The factual reality is,” Conboy said, “without the credit, those businesses would be obligated to pay the taxes to the state.” And what they don’t pay, someone else must.

Supporters of the vouchers claim that they give low-income families a shot at doing what many well-off households do: Pay for their children to attend the private or parochial school of their choice. That claim, to the extent it’s true, is overblown. The average scholarship granted last year was $1,246, a tiny fraction of the cost of attending almost all schools, public or private.

When, using a voucher paid for with tax credits, a student transfers from a public school to a private one, the local school district loses thousands of dollars in state education aid. Since most of a school district’s costs are fixed, the transfer of one or even a dozen students does not reduce what the district needs to spend. Instead, it must find a way to make do with less, to the detriment of students.

Because the 2012 law was duly enacted by the Legislature, the attorney general’s office is obligated to defend it. To do so, Associate Attorney General Richard Head told the court that the law was constitutional because the money meant for the state was not given to religious schools but to parents to spend as they wish. That’s true, but it’s merely another attempt to violate the spirit and intent expressed in the constitution.

The high court, we assume, will see through that, too, and put an end to a law crafted to allow parents to pay for private school with public money.

The ALEC-inspired tax credit law clearly violates the NH Constitution. By itself, that should be the end of the story. But a larger point is that this law was deliberately crafted as a way to attack and weaken public schools all over the country, by siphoning off scare tax money that otherwise would go to the public schools. The amount going to any one student is relatively small, and won't go far in paying for tuition at parochial and established private schools. But when combined with other measures aimed at promoting private, for profit schools, it has the potential to seriously weaken public schools in many states. What this law encourages is the growth of small, fundamentalist religious and political schools that may use a low-cost, canned curriculum teaching creationism and other fantasies. Equally important is the fact this law was passed based on a fallacy promoted by the forces of privatization: that public schools are failing. They're not. In fact, test scores on the only long-term data of public schools (the NAEP) show steady improvement over more than 20 years. In 2011, two-thirds of American 4th graders were reading at or above basic (meaning grade level); one-third were reading below. Three fourths of U.S. eighth graders were at or above basic in 2011; one -quarter below. 34% were "proficient"--equivalent to an A-. While it would be wonderful if all students were reading at a basic level or higher, this group includes children with learning disabilities and English-language learners. Readers interested in the NAEP tests (National Assessment of Educational Progress) should visit the site, and review the 4th and 8th grade test questions, and compare them to what was taught when they were in school.

The NAEP Results For 2013. National Report Card. Math: 41% of 4th Graders proficient or above. 34% of 8th Graders proficient or above. Reading: 34% of 4th and 8th graders proficient or above. We cannot even reach 50%. Pathetic.

Did you bother to read my post? You are misinterpreting the results: Proficient means ABOVE grade level--equivalent to an A-. Basic is "average"--a C or C , and on grade level.

If the tax credit reduces your taxes--and you don't even owe them or have to pay them--how can they even BE taxes, let alone be taxes that were "raised"? Sounds like common sense: they're not.

You said it yourself, it reduces your taxes and if you don't have a credit you would be paying more in taxes. Bingo, Anyone can see it is a end run around the Constitution but the only question is will the Court let them get away with it.

It's a logical fallacy. Many current Republicans are experts in applying them.

So tillie, are churches using "money raised by taxation" because they get a 100% property tax credit?

Are churches for profit companies?

No, and neither are the nonprofit scholarship organizations helping low-income students. Nor, for that matter, are the religious schools that the CM is so worried about.

Does the Concord Monitor believe that 100% property tax exemptions for churches are an "accounting trick" that funnel "public money" to religious institutions? What about tax deductions for donations to those churches? Another "trick"? The fact is, the donations to non-profit scholarship organizations are NOT public money. And scholarship recipients can use them at secular private schools, out-of-district public schools, and home schools. Moreover, the Monitor is flatly wrong that these scholarships do not aid low-income students. 91% of scholarship recipients had an income that would qualify for the free-and-reduced-price lunch program (about $44,000 or less for a family of four). And 3/4ths of those families said that they could not have afforded tuition without the scholarship. See here for more:’s-scholarship-tax-credits/

Well lets see - BDross, of course it is raised by taxation, a "scholarship" used to reduce your taxes - politicians were just playing games with words. -------- BPR, not worthy of a comment. -------- GWTW, towns do that all the time to attract jobs. Since NHIS is not a religious organization then the constitution is not violated. For all the whining some folks do over ignoring the constitution, this is where their hypocrisy becomes evident. Our Constitution limits the choice, nothing to do with democrats or that Reality thingy.

"New Hampshire’s constitution, however, is very clear on the subject. In Article 83, it specifically states that “no money RAISED by taxation..." What were those last 3 words? Was the scholarship money, in fact, raised by taxation?

Yes it was in fact. A scholarship in lieu of taxes how could it be considered anything less. Say you owe $10000 in taxes but you give a $2000 scholarship and your tax bill is $8000. What do you call that, other than an end around? Use the scholarship to a non church school, that's what the constitution states.

The hypocrisy of the democrats is at full monty on the issue of choice. The democrats WAR on CHOICE only applies to abortion and never to any other rights of the citizens. How is that democrats CHOICE thingy working for you on NObamaKare?

NH towns play games with tax money all the time...I know its not exactly the same, but in Loudon, the town gave a large prop tax break to NHIS for the first what...10 years? Wasn't that also school money? Is/was that constitutional???

No it is not exactly the same, it is not the same at all. If the town said to NHIs take some of the tax money you would be giving to us and instead give it to some parents to send their kids to private schools because under the Constitution we can't hand it directly to them, then it would be the same. This is just another ALEC Koch Bros. plan to get rid of public schools.

getting rid of the failed zip code based institutions of liberal indoctrination would be a great 1st step in returning America to its former greatness before liberalism destroyed it.

Regarding our so-called "failed zipcode based institutions of liberal indoctrination": Funny, our system of "common schools" dates from before the Civil War. I guess in some minds, it's been downhill ever since.

Well, once liberals got their hands on education, it has been downhill ever since. They use schools to preach hokum like Global Warming and political correctness.

Just what do you know about what schools preach. Schools don't preach political correctness that is society and courts. As far as schools failing that is squarely in the parents laps. If it weren't for your so called liberals, schools would be stuck in the 1950's. From 1973 - 1979 the GOP under Thomson school districts had to go to courts to fight for funding both dems and GOP have been dropping the ball ever since. You two need a new story, this one went out with the Eisenhower years.

The kind of comment one expects from those who rely on sources like Fox/Faux for their science. "93 percent of Fox News' recent climate change coverage was misleading. Over the last two years, several leading scientists have told Media Matters the same thing, calling Fox's climate change stories "completely wrong," "patently false," and "utter nonsense." Last summer, Fox News hosted global warming "expert" Joe Bastardi to claim that the human-induced climate change contradicts the 1st law of thermodynamics and Le Chatelier's Principle. Duke University scientist William Chameides called Bastardi's claims "utter nonsense," and the University of Chicago's David Archer said Fox is "wrong" to suggest that these basic principles negate the risks of climate change. Richard Muller, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, agreed that Bastardi's claims are "completely wrong," adding that "even skeptics of global warming, if they know physics, would disagree with him." Even Judith Curry, a climatologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a frequent critic of the IPCC, said that Bastardi's statements imply that "he does not understand the very basics of the science." She added, "Fox News needs to find a more credible spokesperson."

good one

downhill ever since liberals infiltrated failed zip code based institutions of liberal indoctrination ..... for sure

are you sure you didn't mean - nattering nabobs of negativity

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