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June 20. 2012 11:49PM

Lynch defends his decision on school choice

CONCORD — Gov. John Lynch has defended his veto of legislation that would establish a scholarship program for students to attend private or religious schools, as well as other public schools.

Lynch vetoed Senate Bill 372, which supporters refer to as the “School Choice Scholarship Act,” earlier this week, and he is poised to veto a similar House bill, HB 1607, today.

Supporters of the legislation, a high priority for Republican leaders in the House and Senate, seized on a portion of Lynch's SB 372 veto message stating that “a substantial portion of scholarships are available with no income restrictions and to students already attending private school.”

This prompted Charles Arlinghaus, president of the conservative-oriented Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, to urge the governor to “read (a bill) before you veto it.”

Arlinghaus and other bill supporters noted that it states that the scholarships are to go to families at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty limit.

Lynch insisted Thursday that he reads all bills he vetoes “very carefully.”

He said that he was referring to a provision of the bill that states 70 percent — not 100 percent — of the scholarships are to go to families at or below 300 percent of the poverty limit.

He also noted that the percentage of income-restricted scholarships that must be offered is lowered in subsequent years of the program. In the 16th year of the program, organizations are no longer required to award a minimum amount of income-restricted scholarships.

Lynch stressed that his greatest concern with the bill was its impact on local school districts and taxpayers.

“This bill shifts limited state funds, which we use to help fund education, away from public school districts, and it's going to downshift those costs to local communities,” he said.

Despite Lynch's position, it appears likely that the House and Senate will be able to override the governor's vetoes when they meet June 27, based on the large margins of support the bills received when they were voted on earlier in the session.

The House and Senate bills are fundamentally similar, allowing businesses to receive tax credits for donations to nonprofit scholarship funds, which would distribute the scholarships for students to attend private, religious or public schools — in which case the scholarship would go toward a district's per-pupil cost. The money could also be used to defray the cost of a home school education.

Under the bill, businesses would receive an 85 percent tax credit against state business taxes for their donations to scholarship funds.

In an effort to offset the effect on school districts, the program would be limited to $4 million in scholarships in the first year, then $6 million the next year and $8 million the third year. Money would also be allocated to partly compensate districts for lost funding.


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Ted Siefer may be reached at tsiefer@unionleader.com.


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