New Hampshire Overrides Governor’s Veto, Passes Statewide School Choice

Published July 6, 2012

New Hampshire’s legislature overwhelmingly overrode Gov. John Lynch’s veto to make it the eleventh state to create tax-credit scholarships allowing families to choose their child’s K12 school.

The new law will let nonprofits collect donations from corporations for scholarships up to $2,500 each year. These scholarships will go to students whose families earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level—$69,150 for a family of four—so the children can attend a public or private school of choice.

Home-schooled students are eligible for scholarships up to $625, in a first-in-the-nation provision. Companies will receive 85 percent of their donation amount as a credit against their tax bill. The program is capped at $6.8 million in its first year, which will increase by 25 percent every year the program reaches at least 80 percent of the cap.

The House voted 236-108 and the Senate voted 16-7 to override Lynch’s veto of SB 372. Every Democrat in the Senate and most Democrats in the House voted to uphold the veto.

Governor’s Complaints
Lynch, a Democrat, vetoed the bill on June 18, largely, he said, because he feared it would decrease public school funding. He claimed each district would lose between $3,450 and $8,381 per student who left.

“Any tax credit program enacted by the legislature must not weaken our public school system in New Hampshire, downshift additional costs on local communities or taxpayers, or allow private companies to determine where public school money will be spent,” he said in a statement.

He also disagreed with the bill because it would send money previously destined for public coffers to private organizations instead, he said.

The governor voted strictly for political reasons, said Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

“The governor vetoed it at the end of the day because he’s a Democrat against school choice. We’re fairly convinced he would have vetoed any school choice bill,” Arlinghaus said. “[Democrats] regard it, inexplicably, as a threat to public education.”

Funding Impact Wildly Exaggerated
The law will not hurt public school systems as a whole, Arlinghaus said, first because it will only affect one quarter of 1 percent of total New Hampshire school funding.

“For the governor to be right, you would have to believe that [retaining] 99.75 percent of funding is the same thing as devastation,” Arlinghaus said. “And that’s just silly.”

After enough time has passed, the success of the program will become apparent, Arlinghaus predicts. Currently, he said, New Hampshire has good schools, but the bill presents students with more options, which is needed.

“No single school is good for every single student. And that’s the fundamental recognition of this bill,” he said. “A school can be a great choice for 90 percent of the students, but no school can be the right choice for every student. That’s the danger when you assign schools through ZIP code.”

Image by J. Stephen Conn.