The Senate is forging ahead with its version of a statewide voucher bill, SB 130, which would create a universal voucher program in New Hampshire. The proposal would require the state to create taxpayer-funded “Education Freedom Accounts,” giving parents between $3,700 and $8,400 per student in state funding to use for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and other school-related expenses.
The bill is nearly identical to HB 20, which was introduced in the House this session. Often, high-priority bills get introduced in both the House and the Senate in case one doesn’t make it through the process. That happened with HB 20 — fierce opposition and concerns over the technical details led the House Education Committee to shelve the bill last week. Thus, the Senate is moving forward with SB 130.
The public fiercely opposed HB 20 during its public hearing in February, noting that the bill included no protections for students, less transparency and oversight of taxpayer dollars, and almost no accountability for ensuring that programs funded by taxpayer dollars would be used appropriately or effectively. Despite the opposition, the Senate continues to pursue the program with SB 130.
The public hearing for the bill is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2 at 9 a.m. in the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee. Click here for information on how to register your support or opposition, or to register to testify.
Here’s what you need to know:
- SB 130 would create a nearly universal voucher program, open to all students attending public, private, and home schools. 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 in a taxpayer-funded account, 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.
- SB 130 would cost the state up to $100 million in new state spending, by using taxpayer money to fund private school tuition and homeschool programs.
- 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 may waive their rights under federal and state disability laws, including the right to an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the right to services, and the right to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.
- There is no public oversight for state funds. There is no financial audit requirement for the scholarship organization to ensure that the family, school, or scholarship organization is appropriately using public funds, nor are they required to audit all accounts to ensure that the funds are being used appropriately. There is no requirement that participating students take any assessment of any kind, in order to ensure that public dollars are being used appropriately or effectively.
- SB 130, as proposed, would be the most extreme 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. SB 130, however, would be a universal voucher program that is open to 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.
Eligible students and amount of voucher
The eligibility requirements are the widest in the country: At least 95% of children in New Hampshire would qualify, though there are some technical questions that remain about the bill.
The only eligibility requirement for the program is that the child is a resident of New Hampshire. There is no limitation that students must attend in-state schools, or even that those schools must be approved or accredited by a state or regional entity.
The amount of the voucher would depend on the student’s eligibility for state aid and the amount retained by the independent scholarship organization. The scholarship organization may retain “up to” 10% of the voucher for administrative expenses, which is our assumption in the amounts below.
All eligible students would receive base adequacy. In 2022, that amount is currently set at $3,786. Minus the administrative fee, that would give parents $3,407 in public funds.
Students from low-income families who qualify for school meal programs (Free and Reduced-Price Lunch program) would receive an additional $1,893. Minus the administrative fee, eligible parents would receive an additional $1,703.
Students with disabilities (either an Individualized Education Program [IEP] or a 504 Plan) would receive an additional $2,037. Minus the administrative fee, eligible parents would receive an additional $1,833.
Students enrolled in English Language Learner programs could receive an additional $741. Minus the administrative fee, eligible parents would receive $667. Note: The eligibility for this aid category is unclear. Public and charter schools receive this aid for students who are enrolled in English Language Learner programs, but those who have advanced to the monitoring state are not included. Thresholds are not specified in SB 130.
Therefore, students who qualify for both the Free and Reduced-Price Lunch program and have an IEP or 504 Plan could receive $6,944, and the scholarship organization would receive $771.
Under the current version of the bill, the scholarship organization determines eligibility for additional aid categories. They also collect up to 10% for these additional aid categories for administrative expenses.
Protections against discrimination
There are no provisions in the current bill that protect students from discrimination. The bill does not prohibit educational service providers from discriminating against students based on their or their family’s gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and other reasons.
The bill does not extend state or federal anti-discrimination policies guaranteed to public school students. Federal protections largely extend only to those private schools that receive federal funding, but they are exempt from federal protections like Title IX “to the extent that application of Title IX would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization.”
There is a long history of discrimination in states that have voucher programs:
- In Indiana, a 2017 investigation found that $16 million in public funds went to schools that maintained anti-LGBTQ policies.
- In Florida, an investigation in 2019 found that $129 million in public funds were sent to schools with anti-LGBTQ views that educated more than 20,800 students. Of these schools, 83 had policies that allowed the schools to deny admission or expel LGBTQ students.
- A 2016 study by the Government Accountability Office found that some schools also require students to adhere to certain religious principles.
- A 2019 survey of all 62 voucher programs across the country found that the majority of state voucher programs lack sufficient statutory civil rights protections for students. Although 42% of voucher programs incorporated federal nondiscrimination language, this language is inadequate to protect voucher students’ civil rights because it is conditioned on the private school’s receipt of federal funding. State-specific statutory protections are stronger, but only 42% of programs have statutory protections—and they do not cover all categories of discrimination. In 16% of voucher programs, there are no civil rights protections at all.
A study by the National Education Policy Center, a nonprofit research center within the University of Colorado at Boulder, issued a recommendation to state legislatures to ensure that students who participate in voucher programs are protected from discrimination:
“State legislatures should include explicit anti-discrimination language in their state voucher laws to ensure that private schools participating in publicly funded voucher programs do not discriminate against students and staff on the basis of race, color, sex, class, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, national origin, or primary language. These provisions should declare that non-discriminatory access is a condition of participation in any voucher, tax credit scholarship, or education savings account program.”
SB 130 does not include this anti-discrimination language.
The only reference to anti-disrimination in the bill prohibits scholarship organizations from discriminating against educational service providers based on the provider’s religious affiliation:
“The scholarship organization shall not exclude, discriminate against, or otherwise disadvantage any education provider with respect to programs or services under this section based in whole or in part on the provider’s religious character or affiliation, including religiously based or mission-based policies or practices.”
Acceptable uses for funds
Parents could use the voucher for various education-related expenses, including:
- Private and religious school tuition and program costs, including out-of-state schools and programs;
- Tutoring expenses provided by an individual or tutoring facility;
- Textbooks, curriculum, or other instructional materials;
- Computer hardware and software, Internet connectivity, and other tech services and devices;
- School uniforms;
- Fees for standardized tests and prep courses, including AP exams, SAT exams, and university admissions examinations;
- Summer program tuition and/or fees;
- Transportation costs; and,
- Any other educational expense recommended by the scholarship organization and approved by the Department of Education.
Schools, programs, and tutors are not required to be approved or accredited by any state, regional, or local accreditor. Education providers are not required to be licensed.
The bill states that when a family accepts an education freedom account, they may waive their rights under most federal and state disability laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
When a child accepts an Education Freedom Account under the bill, these protections may be waived. Students receive a service plan that outlines supports the local public school will make available to the student. Services are not required to be individually tailored to the student, and families are not guaranteed input regarding the services and supports provided. When the funding for the service plan runs out, the school is not obligated to continue to provide support, even if the school year is still in session.
SB 130 does not contain any requirements for ensuring that students are meeting the academic requirements set forth in the bill, or those that lawmakers have determined constitute an adequate education.
Participating students are not required to take any kind of annual assessment, nor are they required to meet any sort of academic benchmarks like the state’s minimum academic standards. Education providers are not required to administer or report the content, materials, services, delivery, or details of their educational programs to either the scholarship organization or the state.
Public oversight for state funds is limited to an annual report created by the scholarship organization, a periodic and limited audit of individual Education Freedom Accounts, and a 13-member commission, most of whom would be appointed by the director of the scholarship organization, and which would include the director of the scholarship organization itself.
There is no stated provision where the scholarship organization must complete a comprehensive financial audit, submit proof or records of fiscal management, or any other oversight to ensure that the organization, or families, are using public funds for their stated purpose. The scholarship organization is required to “conduct random independent audits” of accounts on an annual basis, but the bill does not specify the number, proportion, or breadth of the audits.
The scholarship organization would be the sole qualifier of eligible students and the acceptable programs, would determine eligibility for the program and state aid, and would be responsible for ensuring that students are notified of their rights and responsibilities under parental placement.
Finally, the bill does not prohibit scholarship organization staff members from having financial interests in education providers, including private schools, tutoring programs, or online programs, for which the Education Freedom Account would be used. The bill allows the scholarship organization to accept gifts, grants, and donations “of any kind from any public or private entity,” presumably including the education providers that may accept the voucher.
For more information on this bill, contact Christina Pretorius, Policy Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. And read our coverage of voucher efforts in NH this session:
- As House holds off on statewide voucher bill, Senate hits play on SB 130, a nearly identical bill that would create a universal voucher program
- Analysis: HB 20, statewide voucher bill, could cost state $50-100 million in new state spending in first year alone
- The most expansive voucher program in the country released as top priority in NH this session
- A historic turnout over HB 20, the statewide voucher program, extends public hearing into next week
- WEBINAR: HB 20: A Primer on the Statewide Voucher Bill