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February 23. 2013 1:26AM

Hassan's choice: For college, but not K-12

Try figuring this one out: Gov. Maggie Hassan is pushing state-funded, need-based scholarships for college students while trying to eliminate need-based scholarships for students in grades K-12.

In her budget, Hassan renews the state's funding of UNIQUE college scholarships. Like many states, New Hampshire has what is called a UNIQUE 529 college savings plan. Parents can put money into the account and use it, tax-free, to pay for college. The state gets a cut of the administrative costs.

Hassan's budget takes $4 million from the UNIQUE administration fees and offers the money to college-bound Granite Staters. The best part: These need-based scholarships can be used at any college or university in New Hampshire.

The big higher-education news in Hassan's budget was her restoration of most of the University System of New Hampshire funding cut in the last budget. These scholarships, though, could end up being much more important in the long run, for they undermine the entire justification for USNH subsidies.

The old way of subsidizing higher education was to build a state college and finance it. The better way is to give money directly to students and let them decide where to spend it. That empowers the student. The old way empowers state-subsidized institutions.

Hassan's embrace of need-based scholarships that can be used even at private colleges and universities is a positive development for college-bound students. So why does she oppose almost identical scholarships for K-12 students?

Hassan has pushed hard to eliminate the state's new tuition tax credit program in which businesses can take tax credits for 85 percent of what they donate to scholarships for lower-income K-12 students. Students can use those scholarships to attend private schools.

The House voted last week to eliminate that program. Hassan is eager to sign the bill, which would deny K-12 students the same opportunities she is offering college students. The intellectual inconstistency is stunning. Young students at risk of losing their ticket out of failing public schools are left to wonder whether their fate would be different if they had as much clout with the Democratic Party as do the unions to which their teachers and administrators belong.


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