Weekly Legislative Update: House and Senate to hold hearings to repeal statewide school voucher program

This week, the House and Senate Education Committees will hold public hearings on bills to repeal the statewide school voucher program. Lawmakers rolled the voucher program into the statewide budget last year despite historic opposition, while simultaneously cutting public school funding by $25 million

The program created taxpayer-funded accounts that parents could use for  private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and other education costs. The bill was originally introduced in the House, where it was retained over concerns that it shifts public dollars to unaccountable private education providers that lack oversight, guardrails, and monitoring, as well as over the burden it would place on local property taxpayers. It was then reintroduced in the Senate, where lawmakers folded it into the state’s budget bill. 

On Tuesday, February 1, the Senate will hold a public hearing on SB 432, which would repeal the program and halt new payments to existing accounts. The House Education Committee will hold a public hearing on the sister bill, HB 1683, on Friday, February 4, 2022. 

To submit testimony electronically, click here for information for the House, and here for information for the Senate. Written testimony must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on the hearing date.

Reaching Higher NH has closely followed the issue since it was first brought up as a proposal. Here are some key developments:

  • The program has cost the state $8.1 million in new state spending in its first year alone, and will cost public schools $477Keven after “phase-out” grants. Most of the 1,635 students who enrolled in the program were already private and homeschool students before the program started, and for those who left their public schools for vouchers, their public schools will have to recoup about $477K in lost state aid through budget cuts, tax increases, or a mix of both. 
  • There are fewer dollars available for public schools. The school vouchers are paid for through the Education Trust Fund, meaning there are fewer dollars for the state’s adequate education funding, targeted aid programs, school building aid fund, and other programs that are paid for through the Education Trust Fund. 
  • The public has overwhelmingly opposed school vouchers. Of the nearly 8,000 people who turned out at the public hearings, six out of seven opposed the proposal. Public polling also shows strong opposition: A recent UNH Granite State Poll showed that of those who had an opinion, 55% opposed the voucher bill. 
  • According to independent research, school vouchers hurt student outcomes. Studies by independent research organizations(specifically, those that are not affiliated with pro-voucher organizations) suggest that vouchers have a negative effect on student  achievement, particularly in math, that persists throughout a student’s academic career. Improvements in high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates, according to reports, are thought to be the result of other factors like increased public accountability (rather than participation in private schools). 
  • The statewide school voucher program has been wrought with controversy since its inception. The program’s administration is operating on temporary rules and relying on contract language to ensure fidelity with the law, and the public has raised concerns that the program diverts public dollars to private, religious, and home-based schools, despite an ongoing school funding crisis. 
  • Last summer, the state’s oversight committee had “substantive” questions and concerns about the rules that the program currently operates under, which removed all state oversight of the scholarship organization and protections for students’ personal information, including health, financial, and school records data. There were also concerns around special education services and rights, as well as concerns that background checks are not required for education provider staff, including those who come in direct contact with children. Those rules still govern the program.

Other bills this week

The Senate will be in session on Thursday, February 3. They will vote on SB 420,  which creates an “extraordinary relief grant” that provides $25 million in the 2022 and 2023 school years to towns with low property tax bases, and SB 236, which would create a committee to study the teacher workforce through 2026 as well as incentive programs to recruit and retain teachers. 

There are a number of public hearings on other bills this week.  To submit testimony, click here for information on how to submit public testimony for the House, and here for information on how to submit public testimony for the Senate. Testimony must be submitted by 11:59 PM on the hearing date.

Monday January 31, 2022

House Education Work Group on HB 1680, the School Funding Bill

Legislative Office Building 205-207, 10:00 a.m.

  • 10:00 a.m. HB 1680-FN would replace the current school funding formula with “foundation opportunity budgets,” which would substantially increase state funding for public schools and implement an accountability plan for student outcomes. The work group will finish its overview of the proposal, and the NH Department of Education will provide a fiscal analysis. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Senate Education State House 100, 9:00 am

  • 9:00 a.m. SB 237-FN would require students to reapply each year for a statewide school voucher, and would require the student to meet eligibility requirements (namely, the income eligibility requirement of <300% of Federal Poverty Guidelines) each year as a condition of participation in the program. 
  • 9:30 a.m. SB 432-FN-LOCAL would repeal the statewide school voucher program. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

House Education Public Hearing Legislative Office Building 205-207, 9:00 am

  • 9:00 a.m. HB 1594 would provide for students with an individualized education program or accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to discuss including voter registration in the student’s plan.
  • 9:45 a.m. HB 1233 would prohibit higher education institutions from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination or face masks for enrollment or attendance.
  • 10:30 a.m. HB 1332 would exempt the university system and the community college system from the “Medical Freedom in Immunizations” law passed in 2021, which prohibits the state from requiring COVID immunizations.
  • 11:30 a.m. HB 1637-FN would require a parent submitting an application under the education freedom account program to complete and submit a parent survey issued by the Department of Education. 
  • 12:45 p.m. HB 1115 would require students who participate in the statewide school voucher program to take the annual statewide assessment that is given to public and charter schools. 
  • 1:15 p.m. HB 1376 would require the scholarship organization that administers the statewide school voucher program to clarify changes in student and family rights under IDEA after electing a school voucher. 
  • 2:00 p.m. HB 1670-LOCAL would clarify requirements for the state collection of unused funds in the statewide school voucher after a student becomes ineligible for participation in the program. The bill also requires audits by the scholarship organization and investigation of misuses of funds.
  • 2:30 p.m. HB 1669-FN would require that the NH Department of Education administer the statewide school voucher program instead of the independent scholarship organization. 

Thursday, February 3, 2022

House Education Public Hearing Legislative Office Building 205-207, 9:00 am

  • 9:00 a.m. HB 1047 would establish the chartered public school joint legislative committee.
  • 9:45 a.m. HB 1402-LOCAL would establish a procedure for inclusion of a charter school construction and renovation in local school district bond articles. 
  • 10:30 a.m. HB 1605-FN would require school administrative units to annually report to school districts the 5-year projection of future enrollments within the school administrative unit, including cost-per-student information.
  • 11:00 a.m. HB 1663 would establish a parental bill of rights, a framework for notice of, and to report violations of, such rights, and consequences for affirmative findings of violations.
  • 1:00 p.m. HB 1664-FN would require nonpublic schools and education service providers that accept public funds to comply with state requirements for criminal history background checks for employees and volunteers.
  • 1:45 p.m. HB 1398 would establish a committee to study the feasibility of centralized criminal history records checks in education.
  • 2:15 p.m. HB 1198 would provide that the Department of Education shall not adopt or enforce a rule concerning the climate and culture in schools.
  • 2:45 p.m. HB 1588-FN would allow students in a school that has mandated face masks to transfer to a school or program in another school district and have the costs for such transfer paid by the resident district.

Friday, February 4, 2022

House Education Public Hearing Legislative Office Building 205-207, 9:00 am

  • 9:00 a.m.  HB 1229 would establish a committee to study school meal programs in New Hampshire schools.
  • 9:30 a.m. HB 1607 would require the State Board of Education to ensure there is no unlawful discrimination in any approved school tuition program, public school, nonpublic school, or educational service that receives public funds.
  • 10:30 a.m. HB 1671 would revise the requirements for the content, definition, and accountability for an adequate public education.
  • 1:00 p.m. HB 1678 would clarify certain provisions of the education freedom accounts program and the responsibilities of scholarship organizations and public schools.
  • 1:45 p.m.HB 1120 would add compliance requirements for education service providers requesting payment from education freedom account funds, including criminal history records checks of employees with direct contact with students.
  • 2:30 p.m. HB 1683 would repeal the provisions of the education freedom account program and revert the unused funds to be deposited to the education trust fund.