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School choice bill fails final exam

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 10. 2018 10:00PM

CONCORD — A two-year legislative effort to create a school choice program that would provide state-funded scholarships for parents to send their children to private schools or for home schooling was finally put to rest, after a series of votes in the House on Thursday.

A motion to meet with the Senate in a conference committee on the bill, SB 193, was defeated 173-168.

The bill, which passed the Senate in 2017, was voted to interim study by the House last week, in what appeared to be the final vote on the bill for the current session.

But the Senate tacked its earlier version of the bill onto an unrelated House bill, and asked the House to join in a committee of conference to see if the school choice bill could be saved.

Opponents of the conference committee, led by Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare, argued that legislative rules would prohibit the Senate-House negotiators from incorporating many of the changes made in the bill by House committees, and urged support for interim study “to come up with a better bill next year.

“We will come up with a better bill for next session that doesn’t downshift the costs of this new program onto the backs of local property taxpayers,” said Kurk.

House Education Committee Chairman Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, argued for some effort to salvage the bill, a centerpiece of Gov. Chris Sununu’s education agenda in the 2018 session.

He said there is a common thread between the Senate version, the version that came out of the House Education Committee and the version that came out of the House Finance Committee.

“It’s about opportunity and finding the best fit for students,” he said. “We owe it to the students; we can’t kick this can down the road any farther and waste time. They are only 9 years old once.”

The Democratic caucus has been united in opposing the measure over four separate votes in the House, and had enough Republican support to prevail.

“I thank House members from both parties who once again stuck together to defeat legislation that would harm public education and the taxpayers of New Hampshire,” said House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook.

Sununu will continue to fight for programs like SB 193, according to his spokesman, Ben Vihstadt.

“Gov. Sununu understands that the road to substantive education reform is filled with challenges, and that reforming New Hampshire’s education system will not happen overnight,” Vihstadt said.

“He has been a relentless champion of expanding educational opportunities for low-income families — which is why he stood his ground and exhausted every possible opportunity to move this issue forward — and looks forward to continuing this discussion in the legislative sessions ahead.”

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Thank you, Sununu