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April 05. 2013 9:20PM

O'Brien supports education tax credit

CONCORD - Former House Speaker William O'Brien has filed a legal brief in support of the state's new education tax credit program which has come under legal fire.



The new scholarship program allows businesses to donate and receive a business tax credit. The bill passed last year, but the House has already approved its repeal, although the Senate has yet to act on the bill.

The program had been praised as a way to ensure all children would receive the best education possible and decried as a back-door voucher plan that would take money away from public schools as private and religious schools cherry pick the best and least expensive students to educate.

O'Brien filed the brief Friday as local counsel for the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of seven current and former legislators who sponsored the bill establishing the program.

The case - Duncan, et al v. the State of New Hampshire - is being heard in Stafford County Superior Court and the plaintiffs claim the program is unconstitutional because it gives state money to religious schools.

In his brief, O'Brien claims those bringing the suit seek to deny children from low- and moderate-income families the opportunity to receive private scholarships funded by the education tax credits.

Under the program, students can receive up to a $2,500 scholarship to attend private or parochial schools. Homeschooled students can receive up to a $750 scholarship.

School districts losing students because of the program also lose an average $4,100 per student in state education aid.

The program is capped at $4 million the first year and can grow each year thereafter, although less than $134,000 has been donated to the program to date.

Legislators filing the brief with O'Brien are former Senators Jim Forsythe and Fenton Groen, and current Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, and former Representatives Mike Balboni and Greg Hill, and current Rep. Pam Tucker, R-Greenland.

"It is our intent as present and former legislators who worked so hard for this law to make clear for the court that part of the plaintiffs' argument against the law - that we supported the law to support religious schools - is simply not true," O'Brien said. "It has no more relevancy or validity than if that argument had been brought against Congress 65 years ago to oppose another education scholarship opportunity program, the GI Bill, just because some funds might go to religiously founded schools."

The public educational system too often fails children, he said, and the scholarship program would give families of limited means the choice to find the best education for their children.

Repealing the program is a priority for House and Senate Democrats.



grayno@unionleader.com


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