Lawmakers pass budget with significant implications for public education in New Hampshire

On Thursday, June 24, lawmakers in the New Hampshire House and Senate passed two budget bills that will map out the state’s priorities and spending for the next two years. The budget bill includes provisions that will significantly change the landscape of public education in the Granite State, including a sweeping school voucher bill that will divert funding to private, religious, and home school programs. The budget also cuts funding to public schools by $25 million next year and institutes a ban on teaching and training on systemic racism, sexism, ableism, and other “divisive concepts.” 

WMUR’s John DiStaso reported that Governor Chris Sununu signed HB 1 and HB 2 on Friday afternoon.

With this budget, lawmakers and the Governor had the opportunity to fully fund our public schools to ensure that they had the resources they needed to offer every New Hampshire child access to a high quality public education. Instead, they reduced public school funding by $25 million and slipped in a sweeping school voucher program that was overwhelmingly rejected by Granite Staters,” said Christina Pretorius, Reaching Higher NH’s Policy Director. “At a time when we should be focusing on a strong and inclusive recovery, this budget hurts those that were hardest hit by the pandemic. New Hampshire deserves a budget that will help our students, communities, and state thrive. The policies in this budget will intensify the consequences of our already inequitable school funding system.

The key elements of the bill include:

  • Sweeping school voucher bill: The budget includes the language of SB 130, which allows taxpayer funds to pay for private and homeschooling expenses through “Education Freedom Accounts,” or vouchers, for families who earn <300% of the federal poverty guideline (approximately $78,000 for a family of four in 2020). It has been overwhelmingly opposed by the public in hearings, polling, and in the news due to concerns over the absence of accountability or transparency provisions, the cost to the state and local school districts, and objections over using public tax dollars to fund private education. RHNH estimates that the program will cost New Hampshire $70 million in new state spending in its first three years and will cost local school districts $15 million in lost state revenue over the same time period.
  • $25 million cut in public school funding: New Hampshire public schools were faced with an $89 million drop in state funding this upcoming school year due largely to the expiration of two targeted aid programs and enrollment fluctuations. The budget allows the NH Department of Education to use pre-pandemic student counts to calculate state aid for next school year and extends one of the two targeted aid programs (renamed a “Relief Fund”), but allows the targeted aid program for property-poor communities to lapse, resulting in a $25 million cut in public school funding.
  • Tax cut for property-wealthy communities: The budget replaces a targeted property tax relief fund with a $100 million cut to the statewide education property tax (SWEPT), which disproportionately benefits owners of higher valued properties and would result in a cut in funding for residents in towns with lower property tax bases (“property-poor” towns). 
  • Maintains funding for two scholarship programs: The budget maintains funding for the Governor’s STEM Scholarship Program, which allows high school students to earn college credit for up to two STEM courses per year for free through the Dual and Concurrent Enrollment Program, a partnership between the Community College System of NH (CCSNH) and the NH Department of Education, and allocates $6 million for the Governor’s Scholarship Program, which provides up to $2,000 per eligible student for postsecondary educational or training programs.  
  • Adds $30 million into the school building aid fund: The school building aid fund, which was in moratorium for over a decade, will be infused with $30 million for new projects. There were approximately $250 million worth of projects proposed for the 2022-2023 biennium. 
  • Maintains separate funding and governance structures for CCSNH and the University System of New Hampshire: The budget keeps both entities separate, but budget negotiators expect a legislative proposal in the fall that would merge the two systems. Learn more: WEBINAR: Higher Education Roundtable by NH Alliance for College and Career Readiness 

Join the  New Hampshire Education Network (NHEN) to engage with the Reaching Higher team and other Granite Staters who are passionate about public education and ensuring that all children have access to a high-quality public education. Our next meeting is scheduled for  Monday, September 13. Sign up now and be a member. 

This post was updated on Friday, June 25 to reflect the Governor’s signature of the budget.