Universal school vouchers could cost the state $105 million per year, according to RHNH analysis

Bills that would expand New Hampshire’s school voucher program are expected to be introduced in the House Education Committee on Wednesday, January 16. Two of the bills would expand eligibility to every school-aged child in the state, including the 21,238 students who are currently enrolled in a private school or are homeschooled. 

According to Reaching Higher NH’s analysis, a universal school voucher program could cost the state $105 million in state funds in Fiscal Year (FY) 2025, which is the 2024-2025 school year. When subtracting the current enrollees, that would equate to $82 million in new state funding in FY2025. 

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About the proposed legislation 

Lawmakers will introduce four expansion bills on January 16, including: 

  • HB 1634, expanding eligibility to every school-aged child in New Hampshire, regardless of income (universal eligibility).
  • HB 1561, effectively expanding eligibility to every school-aged child in New Hampshire by creating loopholes around the current income threshold, including concerns about the common cold. 
  • HB 1677, expanding eligibility to students who live within the “geographic boundary” of a public school or district that score below 49% proficiency on statewide tests and to students whose school reassignment requests were denied. According to the NH School Boards Association, the school reassignment laws have been diligently updated since 2018 to be effective for students and families, and having an eligibility category for it would render the law “completely meaningless” for the students and families who truly need it. 
  • HB 1665, which would increase the income eligibility threshold from 350% of federal guidelines ($105,000 for a family of four) to 500% ($150,000 for a family of four). 

About the model

The model uses data from the 2023-2024 homeschool and private school enrollment reports from the NH Department of Education. The model does not include students who live in New Hampshire but currently attend a private school outside of New Hampshire, although they would be eligible to receive a school voucher if these laws passed. There is no requirement that school voucher recipients attend a school in the state, and voucher funds are permitted to be used on out-of-state school tuition.

The model does not include students who may disenroll from their local public school to enroll in the school voucher program; however, the vast majority (77%) of students who have participated since the program’s inception were already enrolled in private schools or homeschool programs. 

The model only includes private and homeschool students; therefore, it does not take into account the local fiscal impact of school vouchers or the cost to the state to fund phase-out grants.

While it is unlikely that all eligible students will participate in the school voucher program, it is important for lawmakers and the public to understand its full cost since there is no cap on the number of students or allocated state funds. Per state law, the state must fund every eligible school voucher request, regardless of the state’s budget; therefore, the state should take into consideration the total amount for which they would be liable under full participation. 

About school vouchers in New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s school vouchers 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 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. 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 found that outcomes for participation in similar school voucher programs in other states are, at best, mixed. However, 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. Researchers have stated that school vouchers “cause catastrophic academic harm” and have had a worse impact on student outcomes than any other policy or event in public school history, including the global pandemic. 

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