New Hampshire school voucher bill ‘a recipe for chaos,’ state official says

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Giving tax credits to businesses that help pay for private school vouchers would be “a recipe for chaos,” the state’s top tax official said Tuesday.

“This can’t be administered,” Department of Revenue Administration Commissioner Phil Blatsos told the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

The bill, which passed in the Senate and got preliminary approval from the House, would allow businesses to reduce their state business taxes by the same sum they contribute to a special foundation that would provide the vouchers.

Families earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or $50,000 for a family of four, would qualify for vouchers worth $2,500 per year. Those earning 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level, or $40,000 for a family of four, would get $3,500 per year for tuition at private or religious schools.

The state would cap the tax credits at $500,000, which raised the question of what happens to a business that donated to the foundation then learned the tax credits were used up. Blatsos said the idea of first-come, first-serve wouldn’t work.

Others raised concerns about constitutionality, with Manchester Rep. Steve Vaillancourt calling the tax credits “a shell game,” to drain state revenue for religious schools.

Others highlighted provisions in the bill that would require state funding. The bill would make the state financially responsible for the staff required to administer the foundation, yet the bill does not fund that expense.

It also guarantees that once students get vouchers, they’d continue to receive them annually until they graduate or reach age 21. Several people said this could be a substantial cost to the state if the foundation fails or is declared unconstitutional.

Several lawmakers suggested the foundation be launched as a private affair, without any tax credits or government support attached.

But supporters say tax credits are a creative way to encourage school choice for families that otherwise are limited to their public schools.

“I truly believe there is no one school for all kids. We need to give educational opportunities,” Rindge Rep. John Hunt said. When pupils get to choose their own schools, it can improve their attitude to education. “They own it. They want to be there,” he said.

AP-ES-04-18-06 1510EDT

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