The Senate approves a bill allowing the financing of religious schools | Local News
The NH Senate on Thursday passed a bill allowing public school districts to enter into tuition fee agreements with private religious schools – an important step in the direction of direct public funding for religious education.
In a 14-10-party vote, Senate Republicans voted “should pass” Bill 282, sending the bill down its way to Gov. Chris Sununu’s office.
The bill would allow New Hampshire school boards to add religious schools to the list of options for reassigning children whose parents request a school transfer.
Under current law, if a New Hampshire parent believes it is in their child’s best interests to leave their current public school – and can convince the school board and superintendent with evidence – the superintendent can initiate a transfer to another public school of this school. district.
Depending on the options available, the superintendent may assign the student to a public school outside their district, provided there is a tuition sharing agreement to address funding issues.
Currently, the superintendent can also choose to send the student to a private school that has been approved by the school board with an inter-school tuition agreement, provided the school is “non-sectarian” or non-religious.
HB 282 would remove the latter requirement, allowing transfers to explicitly religious schools. These transfers would be accompanied by tuition fee agreements that could result in the transfer of funds from public schools to religious education.
Republicans in the Senate said the change would expand the choice of schools in the state and allow districts to make decisions based on the best schools available in their area.
“It gives the local school district the ability to do what is best for the students in that district,” said Senator Bob Giuda, a Republican from Warren. “To remove an option is to deny any sense of responsibility towards the school board by making a choice that is fair for the citizens and the children of this community. It is a problem of local control. “
But Democrats have denounced it as a violation of a state constitutional amendment banning state funding of religious schools – an amendment that has been called into question after U.S. Supreme Court cases against similar state laws.
“Today’s vote by my fellow Republicans to allow public funds to be spent on the payment of tuition fees to religious schools goes directly against the New Hampshire Constitution,” said Senator Jay Kahn , a passionate democrat. “If Republicans want to direct public money to religious schools, they should do so through a constitutional amendment that allows the public to express their opinion.”
HB 282 would allow school districts to decide whether to give parents their choice of schools from a list of options or to allocate all transfers to a school chosen by the school board.
In a debate ahead of the bill’s passage, Democrats argued that the bill as drafted could allow districts to set up a tuition agreement with a religious school as the only option for parents. and said lawmakers needed more time to iron out the language.
Republicans objected, arguing that the bill simply allowed districts to allocate schools to schools approved by school, religious and other boards, and did not need amendment.
In the absence of changes added by the Senate, the bill will be expedited in the registration process, the last step on Sununu’s path, which could sign or veto it.
This story originally appeared in the NH Bulletin.