Tax Trouble: What’s Wrong With The N.H. Voucher Bill

More and more lawmakers are being drawn into a reckless school privatization scheme.

Yet another state has fallen under the sway of the voucher movement.

New Hampshire legislators have passed a backdoor plan that is catching on in some states. Under the scheme, businesses would be allowed to donate money to organizations that dole out vouchers and then get 85 percent of that money back in the form of a tax credit.

The measure has passed both the New Hampshire House of Representatives and Senate. The Concord Monitor reports that the House vote was 236-97. The plan allows up to $3.4 million in business tax credits in the first year, a figure that will rise to $5.1 million during its second year.

Why are states passing convoluted schemes like this? It’s probably because they know that direct aid to religious schools blatantly runs afoul of their own constitutions.

New Hampshire’s constitution, for example, is quite clear. It states, “[N]o money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools or institutions of any religious sect or denomination.”

That sounds pretty straightforward. It seems as if those who wrote that provision wanted public money to stay in the coffers of public schools.

Public schools serve 90 percent of America’s schoolchildren. In tough financial times, they should be our top priority. Yet more and more lawmakers are being drawn into a reckless school privatization scheme.

In New Hampshire, the scheme was pushed over the top after the Milton Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice hired a lobbyist to work the legislature. Americans United joined our allies in opposition, but it was not enough.

Voucher organizations like to pretend that there is a groundswell of support for the idea, but polls show opposition to their plan, and every time Americans get a chance to vote on it through ballot referenda, they turn it down.

That doesn’t stop well-heeled voucher groups. In Washington, D.C., multi-millionaire Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children (AFC) recently engineered a voucher show hearing before a House subcommittee that deals with secondary education. Among the witnesses was Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. politician who now works with AFC.

Private schools serve private purposes. Many elevate preaching over teaching. In fundamentalist Christian academies, the science taught is a joke, and the curriculum is often riddled with anti-gay and anti-woman bigotry and discredited “Christian nation” claptrap.

Catholic schools might be a little less extreme, but they still exist primarily to impart church dogma. In many parts of the country, Catholic schools are closing because parents have opted for public institutions instead. The church is the proper entity to deal with this; it’s not up to the taxpayers to give any church-run institution a public bailout.

Furthermore, no objective study has shown that vouchers boost the academic performance of the population they are supposed to serve – kids doing poorly in school. This debate long ago stopped being about kids and what’s good for them. It’s about free-market ideologues and their sectarian allies who hate the public school system simply because of that one dangerous word: public.

The Monitor reported that New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch isn’t terribly fond of this bill. Lynch’s spokesman said the governor “has very serious concerns about the impact on revenues and concerns about using public money to fund private schools.”

As well he should. I realize the legislation passed with veto-proof majorities, but I’d still like to see the governor whip out his veto pen. After that, he should visit the legislature and start twisting a few arms.

If that fails, there has been talk of a lawsuit. Bring it on.