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ANHPE PRESS RELEASE: New Hampshire’s tax credit voucher law ruled unconstitutional

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 17, 2013

Contact: Bill Duncan
Advancing New Hampshire Public Education
waduncan AT gmail.com
New Hampshire Court strikes down state funding for religious schools

Court agrees that the voucher tax credit law passed over the governor’s veto in 2012 violated the New Hampshire Constitution  

Portsmouth, NH – Advancing New Hampshire Public Education and parents throughout the State welcomed today’s Strafford County Superior Court decision striking down the provisions of education tax credit law that fund religious schools.  The program will, however, still be able to provide funding to, primarily, students leaving New Hampshire public schools to attend secular private schools, out-of-district public schools and home schools.The court decision confirmed that the law did divert tax payments to religious schools.  Regarding the key contention that granting tax credits in return for donations amounted to the expenditure of public funds, the Court said:

“The phrases “public funds,” or “money raised by taxation,” focuses the Court’s inquiry not on when the government’s technical “ownership” of funds or monies arises, but on when, or at what point, the public’s interest fairly arises in how funds or monies are spent. The Court concludes that the interest of New Hampshire taxpayers in regard to challenging the legality of legislation such as the program at bar does not arise only after money is deposited in the New Hampshire treasury….

“….A taxpayer’s interest is also not dependent on the number of hands the money passes through. A taxpayer’s concern arises when a large portion of the donated funds are, as here, realized very much through a tax credit….

“This Court concludes that the program uses “public funds,” or “money raised by taxation,” and thus the program implicates Part I, Article 6, and Part II, Article 83. The New Hampshire tax code is the avenue used for producing and directing much money into the program. Contrary to the State’s assertion that “the government has not set aside revenue for a specific purpose,” see State’s Trial Mem. 17, it appears to the Court that is indeed exactly what the legislature has done. Money that would otherwise be flowing to the government is diverted for the very specific purpose of providing scholarships to students.”

Finally, the Court granted an injunction prohibiting the State from paying religious schools with these tax credit funded donations, saying:

“The plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief is GRANTED to the extent that, effective immediately, the State and all those involved with the program’s realization and implementation are enjoined from proceeding to allow scholarships, as well as any associated tax credits, to be approved, granted, or applied, or in any way further carried forth or realized, in regard to, or toward, or covering educational expenses of “schools or institutions of any religious sect or denomination” within the meaning of Part II, Article 83.”

The the nine plaintiffs – including clergy, parents and one business – are represented by three civil liberties groups: Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The program allows businesses to receive an 85 percent tax credit – in practice, an almost dollar for dollar reimbursement – for donations made to “scholarship organizations” that, in turn, subsidize the tuitions of low and moderate income children leaving the public schools. The law took effect on January 1, 2013. The program could have granted up to $3.4 million in tax credits in its first year, $5.1 million during its second year and increasing amounts every year thereafter. A total of $139,885.75 in tax credits has been requested to date.

Bill Duncan, of Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, and a plaintiff in the case, said, “This wise decision is one more step in putting the voucher debate behind us.  We should invest in the 45,000 low income kids in our public schools rather than using our education funding to send a few children to religious schools.”

ANHPE Update 3/15/13: The senate takes up voucher repeal this week!

Friends of New Hampshire Public Education,

We have a real opportunity to achieve voucher repeal this year – maybe in the next 3 weeks.
HB 370, voucher repeal, has passed the house and is awaiting action in the Senate.  The vote count in the Senate is 12-12.  There has been a steady stream of letters in the paper urging the Senate to support repeal.

The public hearing on HB 370 has been scheduled for Friday, March 22, at 1:00PM in Room 100 of the State House
If I could ask you for one thing for the rest of this session, it would be to attend this Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee hearing and speak in favor of HB 370.  Testimony should be very brief, one minute or less.  There is no need to make a long, reasoned pitch.  The only point is to show that the citizens of New Hampshire care about this issue and are paying attention.

No date has been set for a floor vote on the bill, but it could be the first week of April.

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ANHPE Update 2/21/13: Voucher repeal passes House and and broad support for charters

Friends of New Hampshire Public Education,
Voucher tax credit

Repeal The New Hampshire House passed HB 370, repeal of the voucher tax credit, yesterday by a vote of 188-151.  It was almost a party-line vote, with a few switches on each side and a lot of absentees.  See how your representative voted here.  The schedule from here is not set.  It could go to the Senate as late as March 28th.  When it get’s there, it will go to the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee, Chaired by Sen. Nancy Stiles (R, Hampton).  The committee will hold a public hearing at some point in April and then decide what to recommend.  Voucher repeal is also part of the governor’s budget, so that could affect the committee’s action.

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ANHPE Update 2/13/13: Voucher repeal on its way, charters and pre-K front and center

Friends of New Hampshire Public Education,

House Ways and Means votes “Ought to Pass” on HB 370 – to repeal the voucher bill
The House Ways and Means Committee voted to recommend to the full house that HB 370 “Ought to Pass.”  Here is my post about the vote.  This is a significant statement by Ways and Means and is likely to carry a lot of weight with members of the House.  The problem will still be the Senate, where Senator Nancy Stiles’ vote against repeal is likely to mean that HB 370 will fail in the Senate by a 12-12 vote.  It is still important to communicate with Sen. Stiles about this, but we’ll talk more about that if the bill passes the House as expected.

Charter schools front and center: what role will charters play in New Hampshire’s public school system?
There are 18 charter schools in New Hampshire and most are doing a good job.  Advocates want to authorize unlimited funding for charters as well as increase in the funding charters get for each student.  There are four charter school bills before the House.  I describe them in this post, Charter school legislation poses big questions for the State.

Yesterday, in response to last year’s mixup in charter school funding, the House Education Committee voted to recommend Ought to Pass on HB 299, the bill that authorizes unlimited funding for charters.  However, it now goes to the House Finance Committee where it is expected to be voted Inexpedient to Legislate (there’s more detail here).  It’s not clear what would happen to charter school funding at that point.

The real charter story is that House Education Committee Chair Mary Stuart Gile (D, Concord) is proposing to retain the remaining charter bills for interim study in order to take the time needed to clarify the role and impact of charter schools in New Hampshire.  Here is some background on charters in New Hampshire.  And here are some key questions about the role of charters in New Hampshire.

Early childhood development
The potential for public support for early childhood development is such an important issue for New Hampshire that we have been posting a lot about it this year.  So it was notable that President Obama featured universal access to pre-K education in last night’s State of the Union address.  Since New Hampshire is one of the few states without some form of public support for early childhood development, will we be able to take advantage of this great opportunity?  Let me know what you think.

Education Funding in New Hampshire
This issue is asleep right now because there is no constitutional amendment in active development and SB 40, to maintain funding at the current levels, passed the Senate 23-0 and is working its way through the House.  The House Finance Committee will vote on it tomorrow, 2/14/2013 at 1:00 PM in LOB 210-211.

However, the Stiles/Richardson education funding amendment may come forward again next year and the Governor is open to considering a targeting amendment so we will continue to post information about the issue from time to time.

In support of a great education for our kids,

Bill

ANHPE Update: Big Voucher Vote on Tuesday. Make a call tonight!

Friends of New Hampshire Public Education,

Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 12th, at 2:30, the House Ways and Means Committee will vote on HB 370, the voucher repeal bill.  There is no benefit to attending the meeting, but there is a great benefit to calling your representative if he or she is on the Ways and Means Committee.  Most Democrats will support repeal and most Republicans will oppose.  That is a given but the call is still important.  Our legislators need to hear that you care.

Here are all the House Ways and Means Committee members’ phone numbers and emails.  If you need to check on who your representatives are, you can do it here.  It’s best to call on the phone.  If you need to leave a message, that’s fine.  Fully but concisely state your position.  And when you leave a message, it would be good to follow up with an email, saying in the subject line that it is a follow-up to your phone call.

As to what you should say, it’s important to convey your own feelings in your own way.  However, you can get some background reading here, on our web site.  Some of this is geared to changing Senator Stiles’ vote when the bill gets to the Senate but, in the mean time, the points to make to committee members are the same.  Again, though, it’s best to give your own personal reasons for opposing vouchers in New Hampshire.  Then ask what their position is and let me know if you get any surprises.

HB 370 is likely to be voted on by the full House next week.  The prospects are good, but we will want to make more phone calls then.  I will send an email about that after the committee vote is complete.

Happy calling,

Bill

ANHPE Update 1/29/12: Union leader on thin ice justifying vouchers

Friends of New Hampshire Public Education,

I just had to write again today to call your attention to the Union Leader editorial on why private school vouchers are really public education.  The editorial and our response arehere.  Please do add your thoughts.

I do hope you can attend the public hearing on the voucher repeal bill, HB 370 at 12:30 in Representatives Hall, this Thursday, at 12:30.  Voucher supporters will be there in force and, while there is a lot of legislative support for repeal, we need to do our part and make our case forcefully.  Please come if you can.

To get the most news up-to-the-minute, be sure to click the “Follow” button in the upper left of the Advancing New Hampshire Public Education  web site.

See you at the hearing!

Bill

ANHPE Update 1/28/13: Come this Thursday and testify for voucher repeal!

Friends of New Hampshire Public Education,

To get the most news up-to-the-minute, be sure to click the “Follow” button in the upper left of the Advancing New Hampshire Public Education  web site.

Two big challenges to the voucher bill
I would urge everyone to attend the public hearing on the voucher repeal bill, HB 370.  The chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Mary Gile (D, Concord) is the prime sponsor and it has many co-sponsors.  The hearing is at 12:30 in Representatives Hall, this Thursday, at 12:30.  Voucher supporters will be there in force and, while there is a lot of legislative support for repeal, we need to do our part and make our case forcefully.  Please come if you can.

Also, we filed the court challenge to the voucher bill this month.  This editorial in the Portsmouth Herald sums up the case well.  The first court hearing will be on Friday, April 26, at 11:00 AM before Judge John Lewis, in the Strafford County courthouse.

The proposed education funding amendment is on hold for the moment.
The sponsors pulled back from the amendment proposal this session with the idea of working submitting a proposal next year.  We will continue to post on education funding from time to time.

The bills to follow this year.
There are some 30 education bills proposed so far in this year’s legislative session (all bills will have been filed in a few more days).  You can see all the bills we’re followinghere, listed at the bottom of the Advancing New Hampshire Public Education front page.  Click on the link to go to the page for that bill.  We’ll update those pages as the session progresses.

Tracking opportunities to support early childhood development in New Hampshire
There’s a great interest in enhancing opportunities for early childhood development in the State.  Here is some background.  Be sure to press the Follow button on the front page to stay up-to-date and join the conversation.

Hope to see you at the voucher repeal hearing Thursday,

Bill

ANHPE Update 12/10/12: Education funding amendment under discussion

Friends of New Hampshire Public Education,

First, it’s worth scanning down the list of education bills we’re now following.  So far, these are just Legislative Services Requests and will not become bills with the details filled in for awhile. Many of the anti-education bills brought forward from in last year’s session are presumably DOA.  But still, there are a lot of bills.
Another education funding amendment is on the way
The headline is that Rep. Gary Richardson and Sen. Nancy Stiles will propose another education funding amendment.
Last year, Rep. Richardson made the case that a desirable amendment would be one that enabled targeting but did not change the responsibility of the Legislature to fund education or the power of the Court to enforce the Constitution.  Sen.Stiles says she is authoring an amendment that goes back to language that has received support in the past.  She might be referring to something like this, CACR 18 in the 2007 legislative session.  CACR 18 was focused more on targeting and less on the court as well, so might be similar to Rep. Richardson’s proposal.  Then-Sen. Hassan seemed supportive of the concept at that time.
Anything that Sen. Stiles and Rep. Richardson propose is automatically credible.  However, many attorneys, advocates and legislators knowledgeable about education funding make the case that targeting to communities in need is possible already – without a constitutional amendment.
ANHPE agrees and will flesh out the targeting-can-be-done-now case in the coming days.
Lots of early childhood development in New Hampshire
The Gap perpetuates poverty and poor educational performance.  But Spark NH, the hub of early child development energy in New Hampshire, is out to do something about it.  Look at the number and breadth of the council members.  They have a big agenda and will continue to grow.
Tom Raffio, chair of the New Hampshire Board of Education and CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, has been talking about the importance of early childhood development and getting business leaders interested.  He and Fred Kocher are forming a business and educator round table to promote improved student readiness for the workforce, including early childhood education.
That will be an important step because New Hampshire is one of only a few states in the country with no publicly supported Pre-K education program.  All the other New England states have good programs.  Vermont’s is most impressive, reaching 67% of the 4 year olds.  Vermont has built a highly productive public/private partnership – a model for us?

Rough sledding for private school vouchers
There’s been a lot of objection in other states to voucher programs funding secular schools that teach a creationist curriculum (and here).  The Louisiana voucher program has been declared unconstitutional in lower courts for that reason and others.  We have schools in New Hampshire that teach at same curriculum – this one, for instance.
In Wisconsin and other states, there are new calls for accountability in voucher schools.  There is no accountability required of voucher schools in New Hampshire.
Governor-Elect Hassan and many legislators continue to discuss repeal of the voucher plan or at least putting the plan on hold right away while options are discussed.  It’s a bad plan paid for by our property tax payers.  And it, in effect, shifts money from poorer to richer communities.  One way or another, it needs to be gone.

Bill

DNHPE Update: 11/12/12 Getting ready for the new Legislature

Friends of New Hampshire Public Education,

Well! We have a lot to digest from the election.  In this brief Update, I won’t try to accomplish too much – just get us oriented for the coming session.

The top line is that we elected friends of public education.  The budget challenges have not gone away but the debate this year will about solving problems and strengthening our schools in New Hampshire – and how to pay for that – rather than about dismantling public education.  The assault on public education was only one component of the larger assault on government in all its forms, but it’s fair to say that voters have rejected that.

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