Editor’s note: Be sure to visit reimaginED this Wednesday to listen to a podcast with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill and New Hampshire state Rep. Glenn Cordelli.
Interest in a new school choice option in New Hampshire is running high after more than 1,000 families submitting inquiries to the New Hampshire Department of Education before the program came online Aug. 27.
The Education Freedom Account, proposed during the recent legislative session in Senate Bill 130, provides parents an education savings account of, on average, $4,600 per pupil that can be used for private school tuition, public school tuition for out-of-district placement, homeschool curriculum, educational supplies and educational therapies. Families who earn no more than 300% of the federal poverty level, or $79,500 per year for a family of four, qualify for the program.
Additionally, students who have never attended public school and already are enrolled in a private school qualify, as well as low-income students who receive tuition assistance through the state’s Education Tax Credit Program. Once families enroll, they can remain in the Education Freedom Account program even if their income level increases.
Passage of the bill, considered one of the most expansive of its kind in the country, was a major victory for Republican lawmakers this year.
“We have great public schools here,” said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. “But there are one, two, three, four percent of the population where it’s not ideal, and giving them that opportunity is huge. This isn’t about the traditional school choice battle. If you’re thinking about it that way, you’re way behind.”
Education choice advocates dismiss arguments from the state’s largest teachers union that the program lacks critical oversight, noting government-run schools receive funding regardless of student outcomes.
“The highest form of accountability is when schools are directly accountable to families who are empowered to choose their child’s school,” said Jason Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice.
The Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire, which will administer the program, says it has received about 600 applications from families so far. Some already have been sending their children to private schools. Others have been homeschooling their children during the pandemic, either because they have been unwilling to send their children to in-person schools due to health concerns or because they have been unhappy with online learning available at their schools.
Sarah Scott with Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire said the pandemic is a big reason some parents need this new choice option.
“The past year has shown the need for families to have more options and greater control over their children’s education,” Scott said. “We’re excited that thousands of Granite State students will be able to access an education that works for them and will continue working to empower every family with the ability to customize their student’s education experience.”