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State Board of Education nominee had sued state over education funding

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 05. 2014 7:35PM

CONCORD — Gov. Maggie Hassan has nominated Bill Duncan, founder of Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, to the state Board of Education, amid protests from charter school advocates, school choice proponents and Republican candidates for governor.

Duncan, who sold his Portsmouth-based software firm in 2005, has been a major opponent of legislation that enabled businesses in the state to obtain tax credits for donations to non-profits that provide private-school scholarships.

In June, a Strafford County Superior Court judge ruled in Duncan v. State of New Hampshire that the tax-credit scholarship program was unconstitutional because it allowed scholarship funds to be given to students attending religious schools. The state appealed the ruling to the N.H. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case last month.

Duncan has been traveling across the state at his own expense, visiting public schools to identify best practices in reaching low-income children with the goal of sharing the information statewide. He has also been a supporter of the controversial Common Core State Standards.

“As a businessman, Bill Duncan knows the value of a strong public education system in New Hampshire. He has been a tireless advocate for college- and career-ready standards supported by the business and education communities, and Gov. Hassan looks forward to asking the Executive Council to confirm his nomination,” said the governor’s spokesman in a statement.

The council is likely to vote on Duncan’s appointment Thursday, said Republican Councilor Chris Sununu, who faced Duncan as his Democratic opponent in the last election.

“I have some concerns that have been expressed by folks in the education community,” Sununu said. “I’m still doing my homework and due diligence and will have a conversation with Bill at some point. Bill’s a great guy. A terrific guy and he works really hard at what he does. But in many areas, especially education, we have opposing views.”

Executive Councilor Joe Kenney said he will be voting against Duncan’s nomination. “Mr. Duncan’s record as private citizen suggests he is against charter schools and therefore I cannot support him,” Kenney said in a statement.

Those calling on the Executive Council to reject Duncan’s appointment include Sen. Jeb Bradley on behalf of the Republican Majority Office in the State Senate; Republican gubernatorial candidates Walt Havenstein and Andrew Hemingway; Matt Southerton, director of the state’s charter school advocacy group; and the conservative policy group, Americans for Prosperity.

“Nominating Bill Duncan to the State Board of Education would be like putting General George Custer in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” said Greg Moore, AFP-NH State Director. “He is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit to block giving New Hampshire students education choice and has been a consistent thorn in the side of improving educational opportunities.”

Moore called Duncan’s nomination payback to the teachers’ union.

“This is clearly a bone being thrown to the teachers’ unions for their consistent political support of Gov. Hassan,” said Moore.

Duncan said he is not opposed charter schools as a complement to traditional public schools, but does oppose the notion that charter schools should replace them.

“I strongly support the cooperative role played by charters like Next Charter School in Derry, the North Country Charter Academy, MC2, the Great Bay eLearning Charter School and the others that establish close working relationships with their school districts,” he said. “I do have concerns about ensuring that charters schools are geographically diverse, partner with their communities and are economically sustainable.”

Duncan said his legal opposition to the New Hampshire’s Education Tax Credit does not put him in a conflict of interest if appointed because the state Board of Education does not administer or oversee the program, which is one of his points of opposition.

“Like many people in New Hampshire, I do not believe we should be diverting limited taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private religious schools,” he said.

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