New Hampshire Court Upholds School Choice Law

Lower-income students in New Hampshire will be able to use tax credits to attend any school of their parents’ choosing following a ruling from the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Thursday.

The court ruled unanimously against petitioners challenging a state law that grants families tax credits to attend private schools. Rather than directly considering the law’s merits, the court instead found that the petitioners had failed to demonstrate any substantive harm resulting from the law, and therefore lacked standing to sue in the first place.

“[T]he petitioners fail to identify any personal injury suffered by them as a consequence of the alleged constitutional error, [and so] they have failed to establish that they have standing to bring their constitutional claim,” the court declares in its decision.

The ruling reversed that of a lower court, which had found the tax credits to be a violation of a state constitutional amendment which prohibits that use of money raised through taxation to fund religious schools.

Attorneys representing parents using the tax credits quickly praised the decision in a statement.

“This was a hard-fought battle and we are gratified that the parents have finally prevailed. The plaintiffs’ case and the Superior Court’s decision were based on a relic of anti-Catholic bigotry enshrined in the New Hampshire Constitution in 1877, which they extended beyond its intended scope. This is a victory for all who would live free in New Hampshire,” said Tim Keller, an attorney with the Institute for Justice.

The program was passed in 2012, when a Republican supermajority in the state legislature successfully overrode a veto by then-Gov. John Lynch.  Current governor Maggie Hassan has made repealing the law a priority, but has thus far been blocked by Republicans’ narrow control of the New Hampshire Senate. Hassan quickly issued a statement condemning the ruling.

“The voucher tax credit is bad public policy for public education in New Hampshire and our taxpayers, diverting millions of dollars in taxpayer money with no accountability or oversight to religious and private schools,” Hassan said.

The victory could resonate beyond the Granite State. At almost the same time the ruling was released Thursday morning, activists in Florida filed a lawsuit claiming the state’s decade-old voucher system unconstitutionally provides state funding to religious institutions. Judges evaluating that case may look to New Hampshire’s decision for direction.

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