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State Rep. Michael Moffett: Latest version of SB 193 is worthy of consideration



For the Monitor
Thursday, March 29, 2018

The noted philosopher Craig Ferguson said that “sometimes you need to question the status quo.”

New Hampshire legislators who remain open as to how Senate Bill 193 and school choice might help Granite State families are certainly challenging the status quo – and that’s healthy.

So the March 24 Monitorop-ed by state Reps. Mel Myler and David Luneau opposing SB 193 rates a response.

My honorable colleagues made the case for the status quo and claim that SB 193 is unconstitutional in that it redirects state funds to sectarian institutions.

Part 2, Article 83 of our state constitution clearly prohibits tax money going to religious schools. It does not preclude rebated funds going back to families to use at their discretion. Indeed, business tax credits have funded discretionary educational savings accounts here for years.

Those opposing ESAs claim they’re unconstitutional. But by that logic, a veteran who receives a $500 property tax credit could be precluded from redirecting those funds toward tuition for a child attending Bishop Brady High School.

Indeed, Bishop Brady has already partnered with the state (NHTI-Concord) in the very successful Running Start Program, whereby the state generates revenue while sanctioning high school courses for college credit.

Would my honorable colleagues terminate this partnership?

As a former school board member, I opposed SB 193 as it came to the House. I continued to oppose it even after a 6-3 bipartisan subcommittee vote recommended its passage. But subsequent amendments better defined the program and limited financial exposure to school districts while creating a sunset provision to end the program pending legislative re-approval. This latest iteration is one worthy of consideration.

Reps. Myler and Luneau discounted the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer approving state monies going to religious institutions, stating that “this decision had nothing to do with the education of students.” But providing any budgetary relief for any school for any reason impacts the total school budget and thus every attending student. This case did set a significant precedent and complemented our state attorney general’s opinion that SB 193 is constitutional.

As a lifelong educator, I would never support any statute that truly threatened public schools – alarmist rhetoric notwithstanding.

The New Hampshire education establishment spends more than $3 billion a year. A modest measure better allowing a few poorer families an option for a bullied child or one ill-served by existing circumstances is a measure worthy of due consideration.

Harry Truman said that “the status quo is not sacred.”

I agree.

(Michael Moffett of Loudon represents Merrimack District 9 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and is a member of the House Education Committee. He has taught in public and parochial schools, military schools, and in both the CCSNH and USNH systems.)