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One of the casualties of the 2020 election was public education in New Hampshire, because Republicans regained control of the legislature. They already hold the Governorship (Chris Sununu, son of John Sununu, who was also Governor of New Hampshire and chief of staff to the first President Bush).
The Republicans’ top priority is school vouchers. Their program, if enacted, would be the most expansive voucher program in the nation. At least 95% of students in the state would be eligible to apply for a voucher.
A new bill that would create the country’s first nearly universal voucher program has been introduced as the top priority for lawmakers in the 2021 session. House Bill 20(HB 20) would require the state to use state dollars currently allocated for public education to fund “Education Freedom Accounts.” Parents could then receive between $3,786 and $8,458 per student in state dollars, depending on eligibility and fees, to use for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and other school-related expenses.
The bill creates the same voucher program that lawmakers originally introduced in 2017 under SB 193 (though they were called “Education Freedom Savings Accounts” then), which was killed because of the deep inequities it would cause for students, as well as the steep costs to the state and local towns. The current version of the bill, HB 20, has no accountability requirements to ensure that students are receiving an adequate education or that public funds are being spent for the stated purposes, aside from self-reporting by the independent scholarship organization.
“Our communities are struggling under an inequitable funding system which will culminate in an $89 million cut in state funding next year. However, lawmakers have stated that one of their top priorities this session is to enact the most far-reaching voucher program in the country,” said Christina Pretorius, Policy Director at Reaching Higher NH.
“A question that I think our state leaders should ask is, what kind of state do we want 5, 10, 15 years from now? Will this program help to strengthen our state, our economy, and prepare our students — current and future — for life in the 21st century? This proposal, along with the funding crisis, presents a reckoning for our state, that I think we all need to grapple with,” she continued.
Here’s what you need to know:
- HB 20 would create a nearly universal voucher program, where students attending both public and private schools would qualify for a voucher. Students who enroll in the program must disenroll full-time from their public or charter school.
- There are no provisions in the bill that would protect students from discrimination, but the bill does protect educational service providers from being discriminated against based on their religious affiliation.
- Parents could receive between $3,786 and $8,458, minus administrative fees, depending on the student’s eligibility for state aid programs. The funding would be placed in an “Education Freedom Account,” or voucher, managed by an independent scholarship organization and funded from the state’s Education Trust Fund.
- Parents could use the voucher for various education-related expenses, including private and religious school tuition and program costs, homeschooling costs, tutoring services, computers and software, summer programs, college tuition, or other approved expenses. Recipients are permitted to “roll-over” unused funds from year to year.
- Students with disabilities might waive their rights under federal and state disability laws, including the right to an IEP, the right to services, and the right to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.
- There is little public oversight for state funds. There is no financial audit requirement for the scholarship organization to ensure that they are appropriately using public funds, nor are participating students required to take, or submit, the statewide assessment that public and charter school students are required to take. There is no requirement that participating students take any assessment of any kind, in order to ensure that public dollars are going towards programs that provide the opportunity for an adequate education.
- HB 20, as proposed, would be the most far-reaching voucher bill in the country. Other states with voucher programs are targeted to low-income students, students with IEPs, and other identified or discrete student cohorts. HB 20, however, would be a nearly universal voucher program that is not targeted and is open to nearly all New Hampshire children.
- Voucher programs have been shown to hurt student outcomes. Long-term studies of voucher programs have shown that participants in voucher programs have significantly lower math and reading scores than those who do not, and that those dips persist for years after the initial study. Other, short-term studies by independent research organizations and universities suggest that voucher programs hurt, or have an insignificant impact, on student outcomes.