Within hours of a 13-11 party line vote in the New Hampshire Senate to table HB 370, the voucher repeal bill, the predicted headlines have started. NEO, a group with no operating experience, is demonstrating the downside of a program with no administrative oversight:
By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
CONCORD – The leading group seeking education tax credits explored paying religious schools or nonprofit groups to help generate business donors to this program.
According to legal documents The Telegraph has obtained, leaders with Network for Educational Opportunity approached the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester a few months ago offering to give over to the church some of its administration costs if it would hold informational sessions at their schools.
Former Farmington Republican state Rep. Packy Campbell is a leading advocate that is helping generate tax credit donations on NEO’s behalf.
“I am also looking for permission to hold information nights at Catholic Schools and too empower Catholic Schools to promote this program like any other fundraiser,” Campbell wrote in an e-mail to Catholic Church leaders. “NEO has discussed with me sending some of the 10 percent allowed by the law to be kept for operating costs by Scholarship Organization back to the school as a fund raiser.”
In a Feb. 22 e-mail, interim Superintendant of Catholic Schools the Rev. Dennis Audet informed Campbell the church had declined the invitation to fundraise on NEO’s behalf.
“We will not be distributing materials from NEO or any other scholarship organization to schools, but we have informed principals about the scholarship program and the link to our website so they may direct families seeking additional information about the program,” Audet answered.
After the Catholic Church turned down the offer, NEO Executive Director Kate Baker wrote in an email that they would promote this idea with others.
“After I clear it with Alan, I am going to approach every school in New Hampshire with the fundraiser,” Baker wrote about NEO president Alan Schaeffer.
The state education tax credit law permits scholarship soliciting organizations to keep up to 10 percent of what it generates for administrative costs.
Nothing in the state law would appear to legally bar these groups from then paying groups to solicit tax credit donations from business owners. During a telephone interview Thursday, Baker said the group has decided not to pursue this fundraising approach because it needs to focus all its time on soliciting donations.
To date, Baker said NEO has generated $125,000 in tax credits with a goal of $500,000 that must be turned in to the state Department of Revenue Administration by June 15 to qualify as scholarship aid for the next school year.
“We just don’t have the time to do that right now,” Baker said.
According to the NEO official, the group has been able to raise money to support itself administratively.
“We are going to be able to give that 10 percent administrative cost all back so that 100 percent of what is donated will go out as scholarships,” Baker said.
Campbell said the concept was to have NEO tap the network of financial supporters for these schools or nonprofits to get them to consider investing in education tax credit scholarships.
“We couldn’t guarantee to a school for example that they would get a scholarship if they identified donors for us because the students have to qualify by income. Still, we felt it was a win-win idea, but it’s never been adopted,” Campbell said.
A spokesman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party criticized this scheme, likening it to a legal kickback.
“It is telling that there is so little support for Jeb Bradley and his far-right allies’ reckless education voucher, that the group running the scheme offered taxpayer dollars in exchange for political and financial support of their extremist agenda,” said Communications Director Harrell Kirstein.
“This irresponsible voucher program is a violation of the public trust. It damages New Hampshire public schools and downshifts costs. It must be repealed immediately.”
Bill Duncan was a Democratic candidate for Executive Council and campaigned, as did Gov. Maggie Hassan, on his pledge to support repealing this tax credit.
“I think it’s the kind of scandal that happens when you have no oversight,” Duncan said. “I find it hard to believe that even those legislators who fervently supported this program would want to see a group out there offering fundraising commissions.”
Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).