Released: January 12, 2024
Contact: Christina Pretorius, Policy Director, Reaching Higher NH, (603) 767-6694 or email@example.com
Concord, NH — Four bills that will be considered by the NH House Education Committee next week would dramatically increase the cost of the statewide school voucher program, known as the “Education Freedom Account” program. If adopted, the bills, HB1634, HB1561, HB1677, and HB1665, would effectively eliminate current financial eligibility requirements and provide unrestricted access to state funds.
An analysis by Reaching Higher NH found that if the income requirement were waived, the school voucher program would cost the state an estimated $105 million in FY2025. That is about $83 million more than what the program would cost with its current enrollment. House Bill (HB) 1634 would eliminate income requirements and create a universal school voucher eligibility, while HB 1561 would institute categorical eligibility that would effectively lead to universal eligibility.
The model uses current private school and homeschool enrollment to estimate the new cost to the state. It does not include students currently enrolled in a district or chartered public school.
“The proposed expansions to the statewide school voucher program would come at a significant cost to New Hampshire taxpayers,” remarked Nicole Heimarck, Reaching Higher NH’s Executive Director. “The proposal is concerning, especially as New Hampshire has been found to persistently underfund public schools to the tune of $500 million a year.”
“Years of research have shown that school vouchers actually reduce student achievement — they don’t afford students access to high-quality education. Expanding a program that is under scrutiny for its lack of transparency and lack of accountability, in a state that already has significantly underfunded public schools, doesn’t align with a goal of high quality educational opportunities for all. In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” said Christina Pretorius, Policy Director at Reaching Higher NH.
According to the NH Department of Education’s latest data, enrollment in the program grew 40% between 2022 and 2023, to a total of 4,211 participants this school year at a cost of $24 million. Currently, students are eligible for participation in the program if they are eligible to enroll in a New Hampshire public school and meet the income eligibility guidelines at the time of application.
Originally passed as a way for low-income families to pay for private schools and homeschooling, lawmakers increased the income threshold for eligibility as part of the 2023 state budget. Fewer than half (44%) of currently enrolled students are classified as low-income, down from 54% when the voucher program was passed in 2021.
Studies, including those by the American Economic Association, have shown that academic achievement of students participating in a school voucher program are lower than those who remain in the public school system.
Twenty percent of students dropped out of New Hampshire’s school voucher program between 2022 and 2023, likely returning to public school.
Reaching Higher NH is a nonpartisan 501c3. Our mission is to provide all New Hampshire children with the opportunity to prepare for college, for immediate careers, and for the challenges and opportunities of life in 21st century NH, by serving as a public education policy and community engagement resource for New Hampshire families, educators, and elected officials.