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April 11. 2013 11:12PM

Detractors say education tax credit damages public education

CONCORD - State taxpayers do not support using their money to pay for religious and parochial schools, said supporters of a bill repealing the state's new education tax credit program.

Speaking at a press conference, a state lawmaker, the head of the state's largest teachers' union and a public education activist said they would do all they can to convince a majority of senators to pass House Bill 370, which repeals the tax credit program.

They said the education business tax credit program will rob public education of millions of dollars over the next decade at a time when essentially state services such as education need all the money possible.

They called it a voucher program administered by an out-of-state group that wants to end public education.

Program supporters say it will have little impact on state aid for public education and gives low-income parents an opportunity to find the right fit for their students.

Charlie Arlinghaus of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, which supported the program before lawmakers last year, said it is not a voucher program, but rather a tax credit that has been found constitutional in every state where it has been challenged.

"On a basic level, it's a scholarship program funded by donations for poor kids," Arlinghaus said, "who can in fact use it at non-public schools."

The law is being challenged in Strafford County Superior Court. In the case Duncan, et al v. the State of New Hampshire, the plaintiffs claim the program is unconstitutional because it gives state money to religious schools. Arguments will be heard in the case April 26.

Bill Duncan of New Castle and the founder of Defending New Hampshire Public Education, said the program needs to be put out of its misery, noting only $140,000 has been raised to date and $100,000 of that came from a company in Barrington.

He said the group administering the program, the Network for Educational Opportunity, wants to privatize public education.

"I see nothing but bad headlines and trouble down the road," said Duncan, who ran for executive council last year.

The executive director of the Network for Educational Opportunity, Kate Baker, said to date she has about 650 applications for scholarships for the next school year.

The applications are geographically dispersed with the average family income about $45,000, she said. "That is where the interest is coming from, from low-income families," Baker said. "People do want to help kids that need help."

She said she wanted to start a scholarship program and needed a non-profit and approached Allan Schaeffer, the president of the network, whom she knew from his work with the legislature.

Baker said she approached his group with a business plan that was accepted. "I'm a free and reduced lunch kid from Manchester West High School who wants to help kids find the right fix," Baker said.

She said it is frustrating the way people are painting her program. "Most people in New Hampshire like their public schools," Baker said. "Those who come to me are looking for a different fit for their children because public school isn't working and everybody acknowledges those kids exist."

Last week, the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee voted 3-2 down party lines to kill HB 370, which is expected to come before the full Senate April 18.

The new scholarship pr

ogram allows businesses to donate and receive a business tax credit.

At Thursday's press conference, Rep. Lorrie Carey, D-Boscawen, said the program is fiscally irresponsible, and without oversight or accountability.

"This program downshifts money on local taxpayers," she said. "If kids leave, the school loses (state) money and local taxpayers have to pick it up.'" Scott McGilvray, National Education Association New Hampshire president, said the education tax credit program will divert public taxpayer money without provisions to hold the private, religious and home schools accountable.

"The current voucher scheme will take $90 million out of public schools over the next 10 years and give it to private and religious schools," he said.

Under the program, students can receive up to a $2,500 scholarship to attend private or parochial schools. Homeschooled students can receive up to a $750 scholarship.

School districts losing students because of the program also lose an average $4,100 per student in state education aid.

The program is capped at $4 million the first year and can grow each year thereafter, although less than $135,000 has been donated to the program to date.



grayno@unionleader.com





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