The House Education Committee will hold a hearing on House Bill (HB) 1652, a proposed law that would create local school vouchers that are directly funded by local school district budgets. The local school vouchers would give parents between $8,364 and $13,668 per student in FY2025 to use on private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and other education-related costs.
Here are 10 key takeaways about the program:
- The local school vouchers are paid for directly from the school district budget. The local vouchers range from $8,364 to $13,668 per student in FY2025. This means that the school district’s operating budget could increase significantly depending on the number of students who opt into the program.
- Voters would have to approve the program in a warrant article. Voters could place a question on the school district ballot regarding the adoption or repeal of the program. The article must pass with 60% of the eligible voters in order to go into effect.
- Once adopted, the amount of the student’s school voucher cannot go down. The voucher is for the highest amount for the entirety of the student’s academic career.
- Once the school voucher program is adopted, the school district is on the hook for funding the enrolled students — even if they repeal the program. If a school district votes to adopt the local school voucher program and then votes later to repeal it, the school district still must fund all students who were enrolled in the program for as long as they are eligible.
- There is no income limit for families — all students are eligible as long as they legally reside in the district. Unlike the state school voucher program, there is no income threshold to qualify for the program. Even families with the highest incomes are eligible to participate.
- School districts are responsible for paying for all special education services. School districts will remain responsible for ensuring that students receive the same special education plans they would receive if they were enrolled in public school, even if they enroll in a private school or are homeschooled, and are responsible for all associated costs.
- Current private school students are not eligible, but current homeschool students are. Eligible students fall into one of three categories: are current public school students, are entering kindergarten or first grade, or are homeschooled. This means that students who reside in the district and attend private schools are not eligible for the program, but homeschooled students who reside in the district are eligible.
- As currently written, families may not receive both a state school voucher and a local school voucher. Eligible families will have to choose between participating in the state school voucher program, which funds voucher accounts based on the statewide spending per student, and the local school voucher program, which funds voucher accounts based on the local district spending per student. Since students who enroll in local school vouchers would be considered enrolled in their local district, they may be ineligible for a state school voucher due to eligibility requirements under the state school voucher program statute (RSA 194-F).
- There is nearly no oversight by any public body. The bill places almost all responsibility for the setup and administration of the program onto the independent scholarship organization, creating concerns consistent with the current state school voucher program. Neither the school district nor the state have any meaningful oversight of the public funds other than the parent satisfaction survey results.
- The state’s budget for adequacy funding could increase. Homeschool students would be eligible for local school vouchers, effectively meaning that districts would serve as a pass-through to receive state funding (known as “adequacy funding”) for these students. At a rate of about $4,182 per student in FY2025, that could mean up to an additional $15 million in state spending per year.
Four essential unanswered questions about the program:
- Are school districts permitted to adopt a cap on the number or amount of funding approved for local school vouchers, or must districts fund all eligible students who apply?
- What is the role of the local school district and the NH Department of Education in the administration of the program? The proposed law states that the NH DOE shall adopt rules to administer the program, but only refers to the NH DOE one other time, in referencing appeals.
- What are the requirements for auditing individual student accounts? The proposed law includes contradictory requirements, stating that the scholarship organization must “at a minimum conduct random audits of EFAs on an annual basis” and “conduct an annual audit of all accounts of eligible students.”
- If a student adopts a local school voucher and takes the statewide assessment as part of their accountability requirements, are those assessment results included in the district-wide assessment reporting?
If passed, these contradictions and questions could pose challenges with the law’s implementation.
How the Local Vouchers are Calculated
The local school vouchers are calculated by doubling the amount of base adequacy per student ($4,182 per student in FY2025). Eligible students also receive differentiated aid: $2,346 for low-income students who qualify for school meals; $2,142 for students who qualify for special education services; and $816 for students who qualify for English Language Learner programs.
Impact of school vouchers on student outcomes
Independent studies have suggested that outcomes for participation in similar school voucher programs in other states 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. 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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