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'Veto Day' votes include school choice legislation

By TED SIEFER
State House Bureau

June 26. 2012 11:03PM



CONCORD - The House and Senate will vote today - known as 'Veto Day' - whether to override Gov. John Lynch's veto of two parallel bills that would allow businesses to receive tax credits for donations to scholarship funds to help low- and middle-income students attend private and religious schools.

Supporters and opponents of SB 372 and HB 1607 weighed in Tuesday ahead of the vote.

At a State House news conference, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Maggie Hassan referred to the legislation as a "voucher" bill that used tax credits to get around prohibitions on using public funds to support religious schools.

"Republican leaders made cuts raising local property taxes and tuition on middle-class families, saying we couldn't afford to support our public schools. Now they are planning to divert millions of dollars in taxpayer money to private schools,' said Hassan, who was joined at the event by Executive Council candidate Bill Duncan and Mary Heath, the former deputy state commissioner of education.

Hassan, a former state Senate majority leader, singled out Republican gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne for his strong support of the legislation.

Lamontagne fired back: 'Senator Hassan's claim that this legislation will harm the middle class is nothing but a repeat of typically elitist special interest talking points and shows her determination to maintaining the status quo,' he said in a statement. 'The tax credit legislation passed by the Legislature has been shown to even the playing field and improve educational outcomes.'

The school choice legislation, as supporters refer to it, would allow businesses to receive tax credits for donations to nonprofit scholarship organizations, which would distribute the scholarships for students to attend private or religious schools, as well as other public schools. The money could also be used to defray the cost of a home-school education.

Support for the legislation is divided strongly along party lines, and it appears likely that the large Republican majorities in both chambers will be able reach the two-thirds necessary to override the governor's vetoes.

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 partially compensate districts for lost funding.

Due largely to the loss of per-pupil adequacy payments, state education officials estimate the program would cost school districts $3.6 million in its first year and more in subsequent years.

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Ted Seifer may be reached at tseifer@unionleader.com.


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