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This year’s voucher tax credit program will be even smaller than last year’s

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There was an interesting story in the Union Leader this morning.  The headline said, “Half of scholarship cash from business tax credit donations returned,” as if this information that was announced two months ago were news today.  And here’s the first paragraph (emphasis added):

Half the money donated by New Hampshire businesses to a scholarship fund for schoolchildren last year went unused and had to be returned because of a state court decision barring scholarships for families who choose to send children to church-related schools.

Notice the cute framing?  This could have come right out of the voucher advocates’ brief.  The ruling, of course, did not say that parents could not choose religious schools, just that they could not ask the State to subsidize that choice with public

The Union Leader goes on:

Kate Baker, executive director of Network for Educational Opportunity (NEO), one of the groups in the state authorized to raise and spend money under the program, said of $250,000 her group raised by last June’s deadline for the current school year, $125,000 had to be given back.

The legislation says 70 percent of the dollars need to go to children going from public to private schools or for home schooling,” Baker said.

This quote is a puzzling restatement of last year’s practices that were in clear violation of the law.  Last December, the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration slapped Ms. Baker’s hand, saying in a “technical information” memo that,

“The Department would like to make clear that compliance with RSA 77-G:2, I(b) is measured by the number of scholarships awarded to eligible students, not the total dollar value of scholarships awarded to eligible students.”

Ms. Baker had pleaded ignorance so the DRA did not put NEO out of business, but it looks as if Ms. Baker’s confusion might be chronic.

Ms. Baker goes on to say in the Union Leader:

 “One-half to three-quarters of private schools in New Hampshire have some religious affiliation, so based on the metrics in the legislation, we could only use $125,000 of what we had.”

It is hard to fathom this fundamentally erroneous statement.  There are no “metrics” in the law having to do with the proportion of religious schools.  The reason NEO had to give back half of the small amount they raised was that they had too few public school students interested in using the available vouchers.

More from the UL:

While waiting for the state constitutional issues to be resolved, NEO is preparing for its second year of awarding scholarships, with a goal of doubling its donations — to $500 million. [she probably said $500,000, right?]

“It will be easier to raise the funds this year,” Baker said. “We have shown that people want to invest in education and help children where they need it most.”

This is an odd position to take.  NEO cannot fund religious schools unless they win in the New Hampshire Supreme Court and it is virtually certain that there will be no Supreme Court decision before June, the deadline for raising donations for next year.  So the group will be operating under the Superior Court injunction until then, at least.

If NEO had complied with the voucher law last year, the group would have been able to fund no more than 21 vouchers, spending a total of $52,000.  (One friend pointed out that there are more lawyers for the voucher advocates than there are voucher students.)

If there is the same level of public school interest this year,  the program will be tiny again this year.

It is not clear why businesses that contributed very little last year – and had half of it returned – would double their contributions this year while the Supreme Court is still deciding the case and the program will probably fund only a few students.

That’s probably why no business contributions have yet been pledged.

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