The House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony Thursday on a bill that would repeal the School Choice Scholarship Act, which passed last year. The act allows businesses to receive a tax credit when they donate scholarship money to private schools.
Many of the same arguments that were heard last session came up again this time, as lawmakers debated whether or not a tax credit for businesses that fund private and even religious schools is wise – or even constitutional.
Kimberly Nichols is one Granite Stater who says a repeal would be bad for her and her middle-school aged son.
Nichols is a single mom, who owns her home in Litchfield, where, she says, her property taxes pay for the public schools. But, Nichols says, those public school teachers gave up on her son, who wasn’t thriving. She had to put him in private school:
It’s not a choice for us, if my son’s not in a school like this, he’s not going to succeed.
Nichols says a little scholarship money from an education tax credit – would go a long way:
I pay for his education by giving up virtually everything else.
Nichols was one of many parents and children at the state house on Thursday, who showed up for the bill’s public hearing. The bill – sponsored by Democratic Representative Peter Sullivan – would repeal the controversial School Choice Scholarship Act. Civil Liberties groups including the ACLU have also filed a lawsuit to end the program.
Senator Nancy Stiles was one of only two Republicans to vote against the initial bill.
As you know when this bill came through the legislature last time I voted against it every time it came to my attention.
Stiles does not think a business tax credit should pay for private education. But – she says, the tax credit shouldn’t be repealed. Her vote against repeal could be crucial in upholding the Act.
We should not be a body that passes legislation one year, the next year repeals it, the next year brings some of it back, then repeals it again, that’s not the kind of legislature New Hampshire should be. If we pass a law because of the people that have been elected to pass that legislation, we should not look to overturn those laws until we have the data we need to do that.
Kate Baker is the Executive Director of the organization that implementing the School Choice Scholarship Act’s provisions. So if the education tax credit gets repealed – that’s bad news for Baker. When asked how worried she was about the bill, she replied:
I mean, everywhere else in the nation it has bipartisan support, and so I feel like, if it’s helping low income kids, and legislators see the data, that they would leave it in place.
Baker says 58 percent of the students who have applied for scholarships are low-income students who receive reduced-school lunch. And, she says, her organization will be prioritizing scholarship awards based on need.
The Department of Revenue Administration began accepting tax credit applications on January 1. So far, 11 businesses have donated a total of $126,000, and 270 students have applied for scholarships. That’s for attendance at anything from the Monadnock Waldorf School to the Laconia Christian School.
The Education Tax Credit could cost the state as much as $3.4 million dollars this year, and $5.1 million next year.
With the new Democratic majority in the House and crucial votes from a couple Republicans in the Senate, the Education Tax Credit could be repealed this session.