A good day in court for NH parents and students

When New Hampshire passed an education tax credit law in 2012, I wrote about it because so many of the people I saw standing up for life were also standing up for the right of parents to choose the best educational setting for their children. The law was challenged by several parties, among them Bill Duncan, who was a private citizen when he filed suit but is now on the New Hampshire board of education. The state Supreme Court ruled today that Mr. Duncan and his co-plaintiffs lack standing to bring suit. That means the education tax credit and the scholarship fund that benefits from it are intact for now.

Dominique Vasquez-Vanasse can breathe a sigh of relief. I wrote about her in Educational Opportunity Scholarships: the view from Concord. The many schools that are opening throughout the state can let parents know that educational opportunity scholarships are available. I wrote about them in …The View from Elm Street.

Among the plaintiffs’ claims in the case that was dismissed today: the law violates the New Hampshire constitution’s provision barring state funds from going to religious schools. That’s the Blaine Amendment, dating from the 1870s, a time of nativism. Blaine Amendments taint many state constitutions. They are relics of anti-religious bigotry that ought to be obsolete in the 21st century. Look instead at the original language of the New Hampshire constitution, which speaks of a responsibility to “cherish” education, whether public or private.

But the plaintiffs are wrong in another sense, which the court chose not to address today. They hold that the education tax credit is actually a voucher, giving state funds to private schools. Wrong. The tax credit is an incentive for private businesses that choose to donate to a nonprofit scholarship fund to benefit low- and middle-income students in grades K through 12. No public money changes hands. Governor Hassan today issued a fuming statement after the Court’s decision was announced. She clings desperately to the error that the credit is a voucher, even heading her statement with “statement on voucher tax credit ruling.”

I expect more from a literate woman.

Long hence, when the only trace of Hassan’s tenure in office will be a portrait somewhere in the State House, educational opportunity scholarships can still be helping New Hampshire’s children. Let’s hope so. The challenges aren’t over. But today is a good day.

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