, Kingston, NH

April 25, 2013

HB370 Tax Credit Scholarships

Carriage Towne News

---- — Some supporters of HB370, the proposed NH legislation that would eliminate Education Tax Credit Scholarships, argue that these scholarships are unconstitutional because they can be used at religious schools. They cite Article 83 in the state constitution, often referred to as “The Blaine Amendment,” which says that “no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools or institutions of any religious sect or denomination.”

Oddly, when this amendment first appeared in 1877, the state constitution elsewhere required citizens “to make adequate provision at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.” This wording was eliminated in the 1968 revision of the NH State Constitution (amended “to remove obsolete sectarian references”). The Blaine amendment was passed at a time in the 19th century when anti-Catholic sentiments were high and the King James Bible was still read widely in the overwhelmingly Protestant public schools, so it is hypocritical to cite this article as a reason why Education Tax Credit Scholarships should be eliminated. It is also irrelevant since the funds are donated by private businesses as pre-tax dollars, the same as other donations to charities.

These scholarships will allow parents to make a choice as to what type of school they want their children to go to whether it be a public school in another school district, a secular private school, a school that reinforces their religious beliefs, or even home-schooling. The government is not forcing them to choose a particular religious school, and so “the separation of church and state,” a phrase overused by supporters of HB370, is not violated. The Supreme Court case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) has already upheld this same argument in regards to the constitutionality of school vouchers, so certainly the non-voucher privately funded Education Tax Credit Scholarships are constitutional.

The Obama administration has supported a similar program, American Opportunity Tax Credits, which have provided $2500 tax credits to many families for college expenses even at religiously affiliated colleges. The major difference between these two tax credit programs is that the federal one finances college education while the state one supports K-12 students. While K-12 teachers are represented by the most vocal critics of Education Tax Credit Scholarships the NEA and other teachers unions such politically active labor unions opposed to school choice because it threatens their members’ jobs do not represent college faculty.

Arlene Quaratiello