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Key House committee delays vote on school choice bill, citing last-minute amendments

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

November 08. 2017 2:13PM


CONCORD — Despite an aggressive push by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, the Republican majority on the House Education Committee balked at voting on a school-choice bill that would direct state aid for education to private schools through "education freedom savings accounts."


SB 193 passed the Senate earlier in the year but the House referred the bill to committee for further study.


After meeting through the summer and fall, a House Education subcommittee endorsed the bill under the direction of committee chair Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill.


Ladd joined Sununu Tuesday in a news conference surrounded by school-choice advocates and their children, where the governor declared the measure one of his top priorities and urged the full committee to move the bill forward to the full House with an "ought to pass" recommendation.


A series of last-minute amendments, some introduced at the governor's request, prompted some Republicans on the committee to request more time for review.


After a brief caucus with Republican members, Ladd announced that any vote on the bill would be put off until Tuesday.


The nine-page amendment, which was being drafted Tuesday, tightened up eligibility for the program, based on family income and other criteria.


"Several GOP members were not happy with being expected to vote on a bill with a brand new, nine-page amendment dropped in their lap," said Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative policy group that supports the school-choice initiative.


The accounts authorized under the bill would enable parents who work with an approved scholarship organization to receive 95 percent of the per-pupil state grant to be used for tuition or other costs at a school of the family's choice, or to pay for home schooling.


The amendment contains complicated language that would restrict eligibility for the scholarships to households with family income at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level, although that barrier could be overcome by other criteria, such as students with "individual education plans," or students who were unsuccessful in their application to a charter school.


The text of the amendment was still not posted on the House website as of Wednesday morning, even as the vote was expected to take place in committee.


Sununu called the bill an important step forward for education in the state and said there's nothing wrong with taking another week to consider the legislation.


"I think it was a very prudent thing to do," he said.


"When you look at the size of the amendment that was coming through and all the details that were in it, it's understandable that some members of the committee simply wanted more time to understand some of those details."


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