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Left behind: Hassan vs. poor kids

February 03. 2014 7:47PM

Low-income New Hampshire children are being denied opportunities to receive a better education. It is a travesty the state Supreme Court must correct.

A new, private scholarship program raised $250,000 for educational scholarships last year. But it had to return half of the money. Because businesses can take a state tax deduction for 85 percent of their donation to the scholarship fund, Strafford County Superior Court judge John Lewis ruled last year that the scholarships could not fund payments to religiously affiliated schools.

This is, on its face, absurd. The state constitution decrees 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." But a private donation to scholarship, which a family then chooses to spend at a parochial school, is not "money raised by taxation." The money never was owned or directed by the state. The business tax credit is no more a direct state support for religious instruction than is an IRS deduction for a donation to your church.

The Network for Educational Opportunity dispensed its remaining $125,000 to children in 100 New Hampshire families, 91 percent of whom were eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches. The fund could have given the same educational opportunities to twice as many children. It might still, if Attorney General Joe Foster prevails over Gov. Maggie Hassan at the state Supreme Court.

Foster defends the law by noting that the scholarship is not "money raised by taxation." Gov. Hassan has bizarrely filed a brief opposing the state. She argues that the tax credit transforms the scholarships into what they plainly are not — direct state financing of religious instruction.

Hassan makes this argument not because it is logical or correct (it is neither), but because the scholarships offer low-income children a ticket out of the public schools. Teachers unions, which bankroll the Democratic Party, oppose scholarships that threaten the teachers unions' false claim to represent "education" and "children."

Given a choice between low-income children who want a better education than they are getting in government-run schools, Hassan sides with the unions and against the children. May the Supreme Court have the wisdom to see through this political power play masquerading as a legal argument.

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