The House Education Committee has recommended that lawmakers pass House Bill 607, a proposed law that would create local school vouchers that are directly funded by local school district budgets. The local school vouchers would give parents between $291 and $41,000 per student to use on private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and other education-related costs.
The House is scheduled to vote on the bill at the opening of the 2022 session on January 5, despite a considerable number of open questions about the program and its effects.
RHNH hosted an informational webinar on HB 607 on Monday, December 20. View it here.
Here are 10 key takeaways about the program:
- The local school vouchers are paid for directly from the school district budget. The local vouchers range from $291 to $41,000 per student, depending on the district’s cost per student, with the average being $10,000 per student. This means that the school district’s operating budget could increase significantly depending on the number of students who opt into the program.
- Voters would have to approve the program in a warrant article. Voters could place a question on the school district ballot regarding the adoption or repeal of the program. The article must pass with 60% of the eligible voters in order to go into effect.
- Once adopted, the amount of the student’s school voucher cannot go down. Even if the district’s cost per pupil goes down, or the local share of education goes down, the amount of a student’s school voucher can’t go down. The voucher is for the highest amount for the entirety of the student’s academic career. The amount can decrease for newly enrolled students only.
- Once the school voucher program is adopted, the school district is on the hook for funding the enrolled students — even if they repeal the program. If a school district votes to adopt the local school voucher program, then votes later to repeal it, the school district still must fund all of the students who were enrolled in the program for as long as they are eligible.
- There is no income limit for families — all students are eligible for as long as they legally reside in the district. Unlike the state school voucher program, there is no income threshold to qualify for the program. Even families with the highest incomes are eligible to participate.
- School districts are responsible for paying for all special education services. School districts will remain responsible for ensuring that students receive the same special education plans that they would receive if they were enrolled in public school, even if they enroll in a private school or are homeschooled, and are responsible for all associated costs.
- Current private school students are not eligible, but current homeschool students are. Eligible students fall into one of three categories: are current public school students, are entering kindergarten or first grade, or are homeschooled. This means that students who reside in the district and attend private schools are not eligible for the program, but students who are homeschooled and reside in the district are eligible.
- As currently written, families may not receive both a state school voucher and a local school voucher. Eligible families may have to choose between participating in the state school voucher program, which funds voucher accounts based on the statewide spending per student, and the local school voucher program, which funds voucher accounts based on the local district spending per student. Since students who enroll in local school vouchers would be considered enrolled in their local district, they may be ineligible for a state school voucher due to eligibility requirements under the state school voucher program statute (RSA 194-F).
- There is nearly no oversight by any public body. The bill places almost all responsibility for the setup and administration of the program onto the independent scholarship organization, creating concerns consistent with the current state school voucher program. Neither the school district, nor the state, have any meaningful oversight of the public funds other than the results of a parent satisfaction survey.
- The state’s budget for adequacy funding could increase. Homeschool students would be eligible for local school vouchers, effectively meaning that districts would serve as a pass-through to receive state funding (known as “adequacy funding”) for these students. At a rate of about $3,700 per student, that could mean up to an additional $15 million in state spending per year.
And here are four essential unanswered questions about the program, due to vague language and contradictions in the bill itself and contradictions with other existing laws:
- Are school districts permitted to adopt a cap on the number or amount of funding approved for local school vouchers, or must districts fund all eligible students who apply?
- What is the role of the local school district and the NH Department of Education in the administration of the program? The proposed law states that the NH DOE shall adopt rules to administer the program, but only refers to the NH DOE one other time, in referencing appeals.
- What are the requirements for auditing individual student accounts? The proposed law includes contradictory requirements, stating that the scholarship organization must “at a minimum conduct random audits of EFAs on an annual basis” and “conduct an annual audit of all accounts of eligible students.”
- If a student adopts a local school voucher and takes the statewide assessment as part of their accountability requirements, are those assessment results included in the district-wide assessment reporting?
If passed, these contradictions and questions could pose challenges with the law’s implementation.
How the Local Vouchers are Calculated
The local school vouchers are, in short, 80% of the amount that the district spends on students through local taxes. The per-student amount excludes the amount of funding spent on special education and all state and federal funding, but it does include transportation costs and the amount that school districts send to other school districts for tuition.
Reaching Higher NH’s analysis suggests that the amount of each local school voucher will vary significantly across school districts. The lowest school voucher amount is about $291 per student, while the highest amount is about $41,000 per student.
There are a number of assumptions that RHNH used in calculating the grant. The law as proposed leaves a substantial number of questions unanswered, leaving room for interpretation if enacted.
Each superintendent is responsible for calculating their own school district’s local voucher amount, and there is no mechanism for oversight, guidance, or direction from the NH Department of Education or any other public entity. This could leave district leaders, taxpayers, and families applying for the program vulnerable to misinterpretation of the statute’s vague language.
The following are the assumptions and methodologies for RHNH’s analysis:
- These models use 2019-2020 reported data and are for modeling purposes only.
- There are 15 districts that have no reported average daily membership in attendance (ADM-A), and therefore, may not have the option to adopt a local school voucher program as the proposed law is currently written.
- We used district-produced files that are submitted annually to the NH Department of Education (DOE-25s). These are reviewed by the Department and are used in multiple other state-level calculations, the statute directs superintendents to use the previous year’s past budget. For the purposes of this analysis, RHNH used DOE-25s.
- RHNH subtracted all state and federal funds that districts use for special education, including federal IDEA funding, state adequate education funding for special education, and catastrophic aid funding. The proposed law does not explicitly state this calculation, but it is our interpretation of it.
- To calculate the state portion of adequacy funding for special education differentiated aid, RHNH used the Allocation for Special Education ADM spreadsheet published by the NH Department of Education. These data are at the ADM-R level, and RHNH calculated them into ADM-A to the best of our ability. While it is the best metric publicly available, there may be differences in actual funds spent at the district level.
- There are five districts in which state and federal special education funding exceeds their reported special education spending. In these instances, RHNH used the total local education spending to calculate the local school voucher, rather than adding the state and federal funding, in order to comply with our understanding of the intent of the proposed law.
Reaching Higher NH used the following sources for our analysis:
- DOE-25: These forms are submitted annually by districts to the NH Department of Education to outline their revenues and expenditures. RHNH used these figures to calculate the local amount of spending on education, total special education spending, total federal special education aid, and average daily membership in attendance.
- Special Education Aid: Formerly known as “Catastrophic Aid,” RHNH used the Special Education Aid report from the NH Department of Education to calculate this source of state special education aid.
- Allocation for Special Education ADM: RHNH used this report to calculate the amount of state aid that each school district received as part of the adequate education funding formula in the form of differentiated aid.