New Hampshire Voucher Program Survives Repeal Vote

Jason Bedrick writing on the Cato Institute’s Cato At Liberty blog explains that the New Hampshire’s nascent school voucher program has survived an attempt at its repeal by a 14-10 vote in the State Senate. The school choice program would allow corporations to receive tax credits for up to 85% of their contributions to scholarship programs that children could use to attend the school of their choice.

The credit for saving the program goes to Senate Education Committee Chairwoman, Senator Nancy Stiles who – despite opposing the program last year – felt that repealing it before knowing whether it will benefit students in the state was too rash. She pointed out that the opponents of the program should cool their jets in their attempts to kill it before they had actual data to back up their stance.

The legislative battle does not end here, however, since the NH House also repealed the scholarship tax credit program in the House version of the budget. Budget negotiations between New Hampshire’s Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate are expected to continue until about mid-June.

This is only the first hurdle the state’s voucher program must overcome before students can begin to take advantage of it. Also in the path of school choice is the recently filed lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union for Separation of Church and State and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union which claims that the program violates the separation of church and state by allowing public money to be spent on religious education.

Writing about the lawsuit at the time, Bedrick took the opinion of the lawmakers who drafted the bill – that in their view, the law didn’t run afoul of either the state or the federal constitution.

Overall, the path to school choice has been bumpy in New Hampshire. While lawmakers and the ACLU locked horns over vouchers, Representative Dan Eaton has held up the negotiations over the state’s charter school bill because he wants to use it as a “trump card” when it comes to talking about the state budget later on.

In his own words, Representative Eaton – who heads up the powerful House Finance Committee – says that the charter school bill is his “trump card” when it comes to getting concessions from his opponents in the budget reconciliation stage. It isn’t that he doesn’t agree with the measure or opposes it on political or ideological grounds. Oh no. It’s a cudgel with which to beat his House and Senate colleagues, as Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute points out, and if that happens to have a negative impact on New Hampshire students, so be it.