House Bill 1607:
Opponents see it as a backdoor school voucher program.
By GARRY RAYNO
State House Bureau
CONCORD — The House approved a bill establishing a business tax credit that would fund scholarships for students who want to leave or are not in public schools.
Supporters say the program provides opportunities for students whose families’ do not have the means to send them to private schools, but opponents say it is a backdoor school voucher program.
House Bill 1607 was approved Thursday on a 173-127 vote. The Senate approved a similar plan the day before.
Rep. Bill Ohm, R-Nashua, said the program would start small so it doesn’t disrupt local school systems.
“(Public) schools will improve in response to the competition,” Ohm said. “If they fail to become competitive, they will continue to lose students to schools that serve them better.”
But opponents called it an attack on public education and a huge downshift to local property taxpayers.
Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, said while he believes in education competition and school choice, “we need to pay for this and not downshift to local property taxpayers.” Just because one student leaves, school costs do not decrease, he noted.
“We went through ‘you know what’ in the budget to avoid downshifting,” Kurk said. “Now we have a bill that says downshifting is OK if we can get school choice.”
Rep. Christine Hamm, D-Hopkinton, also criticized the bill, saying not only will it increase property taxes, it could well grow to cost the state $100 million in 10 years.
“This remains in fact a shell game; a kick in the teeth to public education and a hand in the pocket of the local taxpayer,” Hamm said.
But the bill’s sponsor, House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, said no parent should be forced to send children to bad schools.