Education business tax credit program upheld
Cohn said the worst aspect of the decision is it did not address the underlying issues of tax credits and religious school scholarships.
Under the program, businesses may donate to nonprofit organizations that offer scholarships of up to $2,500 per student.
Students in home schools can receive up to a $750 scholarship.
School districts that lose students due to the scholarships forfeit $4,100 per student in state education aid.
The top court sent the case back to Strafford County Superior Court.
“The voucher tax credit is bad public policy for public education in New Hampshire and our taxpayers, diverting millions of dollars in taxpayer money with no accountability or oversight to religious and private schools at the expense of public schools and property taxpayers across the across the state,” Hassan said. “I believe the legislature should repeal this misguided law in order to dedicate more of our limited resources to ensuring access to quality public education for all of our young people.”
After the education business tax credit program passed in 2012, then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed it, but was overridden by the Republican-controlled Legislature with a 3-1 majority.
“The result of today’s decision is great news for New Hampshire’s students, families, businesses and taxpayers,” Bettencourt said. “The legislature and Governor Hassan should now consider how to improve and grow the program to empower students and parents to achieve educational excellence.”
The lead plaintiff, Bill Duncan of New Castle, founder of Advancing New Hampshire Public Education and a member of the State Board of Education, said the decision does a disservice to taxpayers.
“Today’s decision will have a significant impact on government accountability,” said Gilles Bissonnette, staff attorney for the NH Civil Liberties Union. “In striking down New Hampshire’s taxpayer-standing statute, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has made it far more difficult for the people of this state to constrain the actions of New Hampshire government bodies when those actions violate sacred constitutional rights.”
He said the court decision opens educational opportunities to students that are now only available to the children of governors and well-heeled political and union bosses.
For the 2014 fiscal year, businesses applied for $58,580 in tax credits for scholarships totaling $49,725.
“We at (Network for Educational Opportunities) are thrilled by the decision of the Supreme Court,” said Kate Baker, executive director of NEO. “We are eager to get to work awarding scholarships to low-income families without having to discriminate based on what sort of private school the parents want their children to attend,” she said.