On Thursday, April 6, the NH House passed a state budget that substantially increases need-based funding for public schools and eliminates the school voucher expansion.
The version that went to the House floor was the one recommended by the House Finance Committee, which included some controversial changes to education policy. Finance committee members recommended an enormous expansion of the state’s school voucher program and a near-elimination of need-based funding for public schools. But House leaders negotiated a deal earlier this week that would address those key sticking points, as well as others, and the revised budget package passed on a voice vote.
“The House’s budget package includes some critical pieces that will expand opportunities for all of our students, give our public schools the resources they need, and deliver relief to our residents statewide,” said Christina Pretorius, Reaching Higher NH’s Policy Director.
RHNH is working on a full analysis, but here’s what you need to know about the House version of the state budget package:
- It will substantially increase need-based funding for public schools. The House’s budget package allocates $1.3 billion for public schools in FY 2024, which is roughly the same amount as the House Finance Committee’s recommendation, but it increases need-based funding compared to the committee’s version. The House budget restores relief aid (for high-poverty schools), fiscal capacity disparity aid (for schools in towns with low property wealth), extraordinary need (for high-poverty schools in low-wealth towns), and partially restores stabilization grants (85% of 2012 levels, or about $133.8 million).
- And it keeps need-based funding over time. The House package keeps the need-based funding over time, which is a significant change from both the Governor’s and the House Finance Committee’s proposals. In addition, the House package increases per-student and need-based aid by 2% per year, making it more responsive to the needs of students, schools, and communities. Prior proposals would have nearly eliminated need-based funding over 10 years.
- …But it won’t increase per-student funding as much as previous proposals. Both the Governor and Finance Committee proposed increasing the adequacy grant to $4,700 per student, but the package passed by the House increases it instead to $4,000 per student. The House reduced the per-student grant in order to provide more funding for schools that need it the most, while keeping the total state education budget roughly the same.
- They also rejected the Governor’s school voucher expansion. The House voted to reduce the budget for the school voucher program (also known as Education Freedom Accounts, or EFAs) by $20 million over the biennium and removed the sections added by the Governor and House Finance Committees that would have significantly expanded eligibility for school vouchers. Amendments to increase the income cap to 500% of the Federal Poverty Guideline and remove income caps for some students all failed.
- Efforts to reverse the “Weyler Amendment” failed, too. An amendment that would restore the cuts in funding to the Education Trust Fund failed by six votes.
- It will expand access to healthy school meals for students. The House budget includes an increase in the income eligibility cap for the school meal program, marking a big step forward in ensuring that students have access to healthy meals throughout the school day. Currently, NH follows the federal requirements for income: 130% of the poverty guideline for free meals, and 185% of the guideline for reduced-price meals (about $52K for a family of four). The budget increases the threshold to 300% of the poverty guideline ($90,000 for a family of four).
The budget package will now be sent to the Senate, where they have until June 8 to vote on it, along with any of their own proposed changes.
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