School voucher program enrolling 1,635 students in first quarter; projected to cost state approximately $8.1 million

At the first meeting of the Education Freedom Account Oversight Committee on Tuesday, November 9, the NH Department of Education released current enrollment data into the statewide school voucher program, known as “education freedom accounts.” The program, which began enrolling students at the beginning of the 2021 school year, has enrolled 1,635 students so far at a cost of approximately $8.1 million. 

According to the data provided by the DOE, the overwhelming majority of the enrolled students were already enrolled in nonpublic options like private school or homeschooling. The data report states that 17%, or 280 enrolled students, switched from their public school to an EFA in 2021.  

The NH DOE also stated that 879 students, or 54% of those enrolled, qualify for Free and Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL), 88 students (5%) qualify for special education services, 81 students (5%) qualify for English Language Learner services, and 3 students (<1%) qualify for third grade reading proficiency aid. 

What happens to students while their accounts are being funded?

Commissioner Edelblut explained that the EFAs have not been funded yet, and there is no public list of approved education service providers. 

It’s unclear what happens to the students who have been accepted to the program: 

  • Can they attend their public school until their EFA is funded?
  • Do families have to pay for educational programming and hope that their expenses are retroactively approved so they can be reimbursed?
  • Or, do they have to lose out on over two months of school time while their accounts are funded?. 

These questions aren’t just for the startup of the program: these questions persist for students who switch from public school to an EFA in between the disbursement windows. EFAs are funded at four points per academic year (September 1, November 1, January 1, and April 1), but if students switch before the next funding date, it’s unclear what happens to their education during that time. 

There are no minimum requirements for instructional time, mastery of academic competencies, or course/program credits met by students, and families are not required to report on what they seek for education, so the state may not have any insight or authority over what happens to students before their EFAs are funded. 

Open questions

There are a number of open questions regarding the school voucher program. While the DOE’s enrollment report included some key information, more information is necessary to get a full scope of the impact of the voucher program on New Hampshire’s educational system. 

Reaching Higher NH submitted a data request, and as of the release of this report, the data has not been released. Below is a table of key questions:

Table of open questions regarding enrollment in the school voucher program. *NHPR reported that 44% of the enrolled students are also receiving an Education Tax Credit Scholarship. 

Reaching Higher NH will update the table above when we receive more information. 

Over the course of the legislative session, the public raised concerns that the school voucher program would subsidize parents who chose homeschooling or private schools, at the expense of public schools. The fact that the overwhelming majority of students were already enrolled in non-public options before the program started suggests that the program is largely benefiting existing private- and home-school students. lends credibility to that concern. 

Next Steps

The EFA Oversight Committee will meet again on January 26, 2022. The Committee requested an updated report from the NH DOE and from the Children’s Scholarship Fund, the sole-source contractor administering the school voucher program.