DOLLAR: New Hampshire Supreme Court Upholds State’s School Choice Program

Concord, N.H.—Today the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court for Strafford County and saved the state’s tax-credit scholarship program. The program provides low-income families with education scholarships, which parents may use to send their children to a private school, a tuition-charging public school in a neighboring school district or to pay for homeschooling expenses. The plaintiffs were several state taxpayers who were philosophically opposed to the program. The court held that the plaintiffs lacked the necessary personal injury to challenge the program.

The scholarship money is raised by private scholarship organizations, who may offer local businesses a partial tax credit (85 percent) in exchange for their donations. Since a trial court found aspects of the program unconstitutional in June 2013, parents who wanted to use scholarships at private religious schools have been prevented from participating in the program. Now eligible families will be able to send their children to whatever school they choose.

“This is a great day for parental liberty in New Hampshire,” said Institute for Justice (IJ) Senior Attorney Dick Komer, who represented two families seeking scholarships and the Network for Educational Opportunity (NEO), the state’s only operational scholarship-granting organization. “We are delighted that the Supreme Court recognized that the trial court erred in allowing this case to proceed in the absence of any personal harm suffered by the plaintiffs from the alleged unconstitutionally of the program.”

Tim Keller, Komer’s co-counsel and managing attorney of IJ’s Arizona office, added: “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!”

The lawsuit was brought by eight taxpayers and a business, who claimed the program violated a provision of the constitution that prohibits the state from appropriating or applying state funds raised by taxation for “the use of the schools or institutions of any sect or denomination.”

IJ Attorney Erica Smith contrasted the lack of personal harm to the plaintiffs with the harm they caused last summer to the participating families, who because of the trial court’s ruling, were unable to use the scholarships: “Without showing, let alone asserting, any actual harm to themselves, these plaintiffs denied priceless educational opportunities to many New Hampshire families, solely because they do not approve of the schools these families had freely chosen. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has ended this infringement of the rights of the participating families.”

Kate Baker, executive director of NEO, said, “We at NEO are thrilled by the decision of the Supreme Court. We are eager to get to work awarding scholarships to low-income families without having to discriminate based on what sort of private school the parents want their children to attend.”