Sununu signs bill expanding school voucher program

By RICK GREEN

Keene Sentinel

Published: 06-28-2023 3:21 PM

N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu signed legislation Tuesday to expand the state’s school voucher program, saying the move would benefit young people. 

Republican-backed House Bill 367 will expand eligibility for the Education Freedom Account program to children with a household income up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level, meaning $105,000 for a four-person family. Current eligibility is 300 percent of that level, or $90,000.

The program, which was enacted in 2021, provides money to parents to help pay for private, religious and home schooling.

Backers say it fosters important educational options and enhances learning opportunities for children. Opponents say it takes sorely needed funding away from the public school system.

"New Hampshire funds students — not systems,” the Republican governor said in a written statement Tuesday. “Our Education Freedom Accounts legislation has been a tremendous success, and we are committed to further expanding eligibility for students who need it most.

“New Hampshire will always prioritize the success of our kids, especially those without the financial resources necessary to attend a school that fits their path."

Sen. Donovan Fenton, D-Keene, called HB 367 “a horrible bill”.

“If the governor truly cared about students he would fund public education,” Fenton said. “This bill takes our taxpayer money and gives it to private schools and religious schools.

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“We want every student to get the best education possible. We are struggling to do that when we have an underfunded education system here in New Hampshire.”

N.H. Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said in a statement Tuesday the Education Freedom Accounts program lacks accountability.

“Throughout this legislative session, Senate Democrats have worked to put appropriate guardrails in place around the EFA program — calling for educational reporting and financial guardrails, but our calls for accountability were rejected by the Republican majority.”

Families qualify once for the program and don’t have to re-qualify even if their circumstances change and their income goes up. Many of those in the program were already going to private schools when it began, according to data from N.H. Department of Education.  

House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, sent out a tweet Tuesday celebrating the signing of the bill.

“Expanding eligibility helps even more #NH families achieve their goal of making sure their kids have every opportunity to succeed. This is a HUGE win for NH kids!”

The state Senate passed HB 367 on a partisan, 14-10 vote in May and the House passed it, 187-184, in March.

The bill originally called for expanding the eligibility threshold to 500 percent of the poverty level, but the percentage was reduced during the legislative process.

The fiscal analysis included in the bill said the N.H. Department of Education didn’t have a number for how many more children would access the program if the eligibility threshold were expanded.

The analysis said that as of last fall, 3,110 students were in the program with an annualized cost of $15.2 million and a typical yearly grant averaging $4,900 per student.  

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org. 

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