In January, 2018, the New Hampshire House is expected to vote in favor of SB 193, establishing education freedom savings accounts for children 5-20 years of age. The Union Leader calls this “one of the most expansive school choice laws in the country.” As law, this would establish a state-funded scholarship for families to send their eligible children to private schools, religious schools, or to use the voucher to fund homeschooling or tutors. Eligible students include those whose families “earn less than 300% of the Federal Poverty Line ($73,800 for a family of four), have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), attend a poor-performing school, or have an application for a tax credit scholarship that has gone unfunded.”
In November, 2017, the bill was endorsed by the House Education Committee by a 10-9 vote. The bill had already passed in the Senate, and Governor Sununu has also endorsed it. If SB 193 is passed in January, 2018, it will go on to the NH House Finance committee, before heading to the Senate for reconciliation between the House and Senate versions. From there it will go to the Governor for his signature. It is expected to become law.
Legislative procedure aside, the bill has both a vocal opposition as well as a well-funded support network. Americans For Prosperity, an out-of-state Koch brothers-funded group and school-choice and charter-school advocates support passage, claiming this bill will provide school choice for children living in poverty and children who are not served by their public schools.
Opponents of SB 193 are concerned with the inevitable financial drain on education funding for public schools in New Hampshire as the bill provides up to $5,100 per student, money that follows the student out of their public school and into a private or religious school, or toward homeschooling or tutors. An analysis by Reaching Higher NH shows that SB 193 would have an especially negative effect on NH cities and districts considered property-poor because a disproportionate number of eligible students (70%) reside in these locations. Consequently, public schools in these communities will lose state funding that would follow these students out of their public schools. In the first year of implementation, financial projections suggest that districts could lose about $5.8 million in state aid.
The Education Committee accounted for this potential funding loss to school districts by including stabilization grants to districts to make up for losses due to students who use vouchers to leave their public schools. Rather than the need to increase local taxes to make up for the loss, the stabilization grants are supposed to make up the difference. These grants are not in the bill as it stands, however. These funds will have to be appropriated during budget negotiations.
Opponents are also concerned with the lack of clear accountability or standards in SB 193 for any of the private, religious or homeschooling settings that families might select. Bill Duncan from Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, writes that “we would have no way to know whether the education we are paying for meets our constitutional obligations to provide an adequate education.”
Bill Text: NH SB193
School Choice Bill Clears Key Committee in 10-9 Vote
Reaching Higher NH Analysis on SB 193 Finds Disproportionate Impact on Cities and Property-Poor Districts
Americans for Prosperity Going For Broke on SB 193 The Voucher Bill