Half of scholarship cash from business tax credit donations returned
Judge John Lewis ruled that the state is "expressly forbidden" by the state Constitution from funding what he termed "religious education."
Kate Baker, executive director of Network for Educational Opportunity (NEO), one of the groups in the state authorized to raise and spend money under the program, said of $250,000 her group raised by last June's deadline for the current school year, $125,000 had to be given back.
Despite having to return half of the donations it received, Baker said her group is on solid footing with its donor base, which it is working to expand this year.
Over the weekend, about 75 of the approximately 100 families that received the $125,000 in scholarship funds allocated for 2013-14 gathered in Laconia to celebrate the program. Baker said 91 percent of the recipients were from families that qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.
Fifty-six of the scholarships were given to children who are home-schooled. Most of that scholarship money will be spent to purchase books for students, Baker said.
While the state Attorney General's Office has the responsibility of defending the constitutionality of a law enacted by the state Legislature, Gov. Maggie Hassan, who appointed Attorney General Joseph Foster, called in a friend-of-the-court brief for upholding the ban on religious school scholarships.
In their amicus curiae brief, attorneys for Hassan argue that because much of the donations are effectively reimbursed through the tax credit, it is the same as public funding of a church-related school.
"It will be easier to raise the funds this year," Baker said. "We have shown that people want to invest in education and help children where they need it most."
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