Scholarship Program OKed By NH Senate

Published March 1, 2006

Later this year, if the New Hampshire House agrees with a measure passed by the state Senate on January 18, students in low-income families in the Granite State could receive scholarships to attend the schools of their choice.

On a 14-9 vote, the Senate approved S.B. 131 to create the 21st Century Scholars Fund–which, if approved by the state House, will provide scholarships of up to $3,500 for low-income children to attend the public or private school of their choice. All 14 members voting for the measure were Republicans; eight Democrats and one Republican voted against it.

“I think it is important we look at all avenues for providing education,” said state Sen. Carl Johnson (R-Meredith), who proposed the scholarship fund as an amendment to a bill setting guidelines for the Healthy Kids Program, which provides health care to children in low-income families.

Johnson, who has served for 12 years in the Senate after four years in the New Hampshire House, has also served as a school board member for Interlakes School District for the past 23 years.

At press time, the bill was pending in the House, and no date had been set for its consideration.

Hybrid Funding

The 21st Century Scholars Fund is a hybrid between state-funded vouchers and scholarships supported through corporate and individual tax credits. If the measure becomes law, the fund will begin with $1 million from the state’s general fund. During the second year, the state will appropriate another $1 million only after $500,000 is donated by the private sector.

Under the proposal, the state would give individuals who make contributions to the fund tax credits against state taxes on interest and dividends. Individuals would receive credits for no more than $100,000. Corporations, which are subject to the Business Enterprise Tax, would be able to receive credits for up to $400,000. Individuals and corporations would be able to donate an unlimited amount, but could receive credit only for those amounts specified in the law.

“In the past, when school choice was proposed, funding would have come from the education trust fund, but this time it has come from the general fund,” Johnson said.

Usable at Any School

The 21st Century Scholars Fund has been modeled after the state’s Healthy Kids program. The Scholars Fund program will provide scholarships of $3,500 for children in families “whose income is 200 percent or less of the poverty level,” according to S.B. 131. It also provides scholarships of $2,500 for children in families with incomes between 201 and 250 percent of the poverty level.

The scholarships can be used at any public or qualified private school. Schools where tuition is less than the scholarship amount cannot provide a rebate to parents; instead, they must return the money to the state. Only students currently enrolled in public schools are eligible for the scholarships. Once a student receives a scholarship, he or she will continue to do so, provided his or her family continues to meet the income requirements.

A board, whose members will be appointed by the governor, Senate president, and speaker of the House, will oversee the program.

Demand to Increase

“The 21st Century Scholars Fund is not just about private school education–it is about providing choices,” said Kathy Getchell, director of the School Choice Center: New Hampshire. “This bill would allow a public school student to receive a voucher to attend another public school more suited to meet his needs.

“This bill, if implemented into law, would greatly benefit many low-income families whose children have few educational choices,” Getchell continued. “Allowing more choices will increase the demand for different types of schools.”

As for passage in the state House, Johnson is optimistic.

“I’m very excited about that because [some state House members] are anxiously waiting for the bill to come over,” Johnson said.

Confident about Constitutionality

Some senators who voted against the measure said it would violate New Hampshire’s state constitution, which contains a clause prohibiting public funds from going to private religious schools.

At least one expert disagrees. In “Constitutionality of School Choice in New Hampshire,” an analysis published by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a New Hampshire-based think tank, former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Charles G. Douglass III writes that a school choice program would be constitutional, so long as it is “religiously neutral,” “provide[s] no more than incidental benefits to a religious sect or religion in general,” and is “brought about as a result of the independent choices of parents who receive the public funds.”

Michael Coulter ([email protected]) teaches political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

For more information …

To visit School Choice Center: New Hampshire, log onto

“Constitutionality of School Choice in New Hampshire” is available at