N.H. school voucher bill dealt blow by House subcommittee

Monitor staff
Published: 4/18/2018 12:34:18 AM

A controversial bill allowing families to put state education dollars toward private schooling options was dealt a blow Tuesday when a subpanel of lawmakers voted, 7-1, to refer it to interim study.

It’s unclear how much the vote in the Republican-controlled House Finance Division II subcommittee foreshadows Senate Bill 193’s fate as it heads to the full committee later this month and then the House.

House Finance Chairman Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, said the more telling motion was one that failed, 3-5, for the bill to pass. Some Republicans voted to study the bill in order to keep the legislation alive after that motion failed, Kurk said.

“And whatever the committee does, there will be a floor fight when it gets to the House,” he said.

Kurk was one of two Republicans who voted against recommending the bill pass Tuesday alongside Rep. Robert Theberge, R-Berlin. Kurk said he was too concerned about the $99 million the state predicts will be diverted from public schools to the private sector over an 11-year period if the legislation is enacted.

“The key factor in my decision was the effect on local school districts and property tax payers,” Kurk said.

Introduced last session, the bill originally envisioned one of the most expansive voucher-like programs in the country. But the legislation, which has the vocal backing of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, has since been significantly revised.

The bill now applies to only low-income children. Lawmakers also at one point considered giving school districts who lost pupils a five-year hold-harmless grant once they hit a threshold in lost revenues because of the program, but the bill in its current form provides just a one-time $1,500 payment to districts for exiting students.

The succession of amendments, which attempted to quell concerns about the bill’s impact on public schools while also reducing the state’s financial liability, have made the legislation a tough needle to thread. Conservatives have expressed anger at restricted eligibility for the program, and public school advocates have been upset at reduced reimbursements to districts.

Kate Baker, who runs the Children’s Scholarship Fund of New Hampshire, a likely candidate to run the program if enacted, said she remained hopeful.

“One can hope that the thoughtful members of House Finance will give due consideration to, what is now, a small pilot program for our state’s most vulnerable children to help them get the education that they need,” Baker wrote in an email.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)

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