6 takeaways from the NH bill to allow tax dollars to pay for tuition in private schools
New Hampshire lawmakers are considering a program that would give families taxpayer money to pay for tuition in private and parish schools, or other options.
If passed, it would be one of the most ambitious programs of its kind in the country. Here’s what you need to know about it.
1) How would the Education Savings Account Program work in New Hampshire?
The program proposed in Senate Bill 130 would create an education savings account, which would allow families to use taxpayer money to help pay for alternative education programs or a private school of their choice.
Participants would receive money from the state, which typically goes to mainstream public schools in the form of “matching aid” per student. This averages out to $ 4,600 per student, but it ranges from $ 3,709 to $ 9,000, depending on whether the student is low-income, learning English as a second language, or has special educational needs.
The ESA program would be administered by a scholarship organization selected by the New Hampshire State Board of Education. Families access their account online to pay for approved expenses such as laptops, tutoring services, or tuition.
2) Who is eligible for this program?
Students whose families make 300 percent or less of the federal poverty guidelines. It would be $ 79,500 for a family of four. Families are eligible as long as students are not enrolled full-time in a public school. If families participating in a home schooling program enrolled in an ESA program, they would no longer be registered as homeschoolers by the state, and they would have to take ESA rather than the Home Schools Act.
Students who have never attended a public school and are already enrolled in a private school are eligible. Low-income students who currently receive tuition assistance under the state’s education tax credit program could also enroll in the program to receive additional funds.
It is difficult to estimate the number of students who would enroll in the education savings account program.
An analysis of census data from the University of New Hampshire estimates that 69,000 school-age children in New Hampshire come from families who meet the income requirements of the program. But proponents of the bill say most families are happy with their local public school, and only about 2% of eligible students are likely to benefit from the program.
3) How much will the education savings account program cost?
Both sides of the debate have developed models to predict how much this program could cost or save taxpayers. But the truth is, we don’t know that yet. This uncertainty is in part due to the fact that funding for schools in New Hampshire is convoluted.
It costs about $ 17,616 to educate a student in a New Hampshire public school. The state covers some of these costs through per pupil adequacy assistance, but local taxpayers cover most of it.
A student with an education savings account will receive somewhere between $ 3,709 and $ 9,000 from the state. So at first glance, a student enrolled in this program costs taxpayers less than a student in a public school.
But that’s not enough money to cover most of the tuition in private schools. If a family enrolled in the ESA program wanted to send their child to a Catholic high school, for example, they would likely have to find a scholarship or additional funds to cover annual tuition fees of around $ 14,000.
Critics of the program say the shortfall could turn ESA into nothing more than a subsidy for the middle class. But supporters say it helps families become self-sufficient in education if they can find the rest of the money.
These proponents say that when students leave public schools for the ESA program, those schools will save money and the schools will be cheaper to run.
But if a student leaves a public school for this program, it does not automatically lead to savings for the school.
Most of the fixed costs – personnel, facilities, transportation – will not change if a few students leave. Critics say that even with a two-year “phase-out” grant to help schools adjust to leaving students for education savings accounts, the program will not save local schools and will leave the state on the hook. for millions of dollars.
4) Do these programs exist in other states?
Yes, there are seven other education savings account programs in the country. The oldest started ten years ago in Arizona.
Others, like the Mississippi program, cater only to students with special educational needs. During her tenure in the Trump administration, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sought to create a national education savings account program, but it did not gain popularity. One of the proponents of the plan, McKenzie Snow, recently held a senior position in the New Hampshire Department of Education.
5) This bill is a top priority for Republican lawmakers. Why do they say it’s so important?
Supporters say families for which public school does not work should be given the freedom to choose the options that work best for them.
They say the patchwork of educational options during the pandemic – with some schools completely remote for nearly a year, and neighboring districts and private schools open five days a week – highlight the need for more choice. parents. And they say students – not school districts – should receive adequate public support.
They also point to New Hampshire’s trend of declining student enrollments as the state’s population ages. New Hampshire’s public school system is going to have to evolve as it shrinks, they say, regardless of whether an education savings account program takes a few thousand students out of public school.
In his testimony for the program, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, a long-time advocate for school choice, cites studies suggesting that voucher-type programs and education savings accounts improve outcomes. students and save taxpayers money.
This research is assembled by EdChoice, a national organization that advocates for school choice and is affiliated with the conservative State Policy Network think tank.
University education policy researchers say there is no consensus on whether programs like ESA improve student outcomes; some research suggests that while families may be more satisfied with school choice options, some voucher-type programs actually have a negative impact on student performance and may cost states more than expected.
6) What kind of pushback does this program receive?
Most of the criticism comes from those who historically oppose school choice: teachers’ unions, school boards, public school leaders and Democrats.
They say money for public schools should stay there and not be diverted to private and religious schools. They also say that these types of programs have less oversight and fewer mechanisms to assess student achievement.
SB 130 says the organization administering the program is responsible for oversight, but leaves it up to the organization to set specific standards. The law requires the organization to collect an annual assessment for each participating student. He says the organization “may include policies” that ensure “proper use and rigorous oversight of all funds.” There is also an advisory committee that includes parents and providers, and another, made up of legislators, to recommend changes to the law as needed.
Critics also raise concerns about discrimination and equal access.
Private schools can reject student applications, while public schools are required to accept all students.
SB 130 requires any educational service provider receiving ESA funds to comply with all state and federal anti-discrimination laws. But these laws do not always apply to religious schools.
The program has been touted as expanding options for families with struggling students who are struggling in traditional public schools. However, some disability rights advocates warn that by enrolling in this program, students with disabilities and special education programs lose some rights they had when they were in public school.
This story was first published on NHPR.org.