Legislative Update: House passes bill to ‘restore the intended purpose’ of school vouchers; approves school funding package

On Thursday, February 23, the New Hampshire House passed House Bill (HB) 430, which would add a public school attendance requirement to the state’s school voucher program eligibility. According to the bill’s prime sponsor, Representative Dave Luneau (D-Hopkinton), HB 430 would return the program to its original intent: allowing students in public schools to receive a school voucher to attend other schools. 

“The vast majority of EFA students had already left public school prior to the start of the EFA program or were likely to choose a private education regardless of the EFA. The existing law has enabled a taxpayer-funded private tuition rebate program. The bill restores the program back to its intended purpose of providing ‘school choice’ options to students and their families,” Representative Luneau wrote in the February 10th legislative calendar report. 

The bill addresses some of the concerns that were raised when the program was introduced in 2021. Currently, any New Hampshire school-aged student who meets the income requirement is eligible. 

In the 2022-2023 school year, more than 75% of school voucher recipients were already enrolled in private or homeschool programs before receiving a school voucher, suggesting that those families would enroll their children in other programs regardless of whether they received the voucher or not. The NH Department of Education estimates that between 2021 and the end of 2025, the school voucher program will cost the state over $80 million in taxpayer dollars. 

HB 430 will now be sent to the House Finance Committee, where another committee will consider the fiscal impacts of the bill. The House must vote on the bill once more, after the Finance Committee votes on a recommendation for it, before it heads to the Senate.

About school vouchers in New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s school voucher program, also known as Education Freedom Accounts, EFAs, or Education Savings Accounts, are personal accounts that can be used to pay for certain education-related expenses, including private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, tutoring, books and materials, and transportation. Eligible families receive the base amount of state funding per student plus any additional aid for which their student qualifies (eligibility for school meals, special education services, English Language Learner program, or the third grade reading aid). When participating in the program, families agree not to enroll their child full-time into their resident district school or public charter school; however, families may enroll their children into public and charter schools part-time, depending on the policies of the school.

Currently, students are eligible if they are eligible to enroll in a New Hampshire public school and meet the income eligibility guidelines at the time of application, which is 300% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines as updated annually by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Students only need to qualify in the first year of the program, and do not need to meet the income eligibility guidelines in subsequent years. 

Independent studies have suggested that outcomes for participation in similar school voucher programs are, at best, mixed, but more recent studies have suggested that these programs have had significant negative effects on student outcomes for the students who participate in them and have diverted funding from public schools. 

The taxpayer-funded accounts have cost the state roughly $24 million in state funds since the program began enrolling students in August 2021. Most of the funds are going to families who have already enrolled their students in private schools or homeschools, even before applying for a voucher.

House passes school funding package, increases to charter school funding and special education

During their two-day session on Wednesday and Thursday, the House also passed bills to increase funding for high-need communities, public charter schools, and special education. 

The NH House passed the following bills: 

All of the bills will be sent to the House Finance Committee. 

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