Senate Backs Expanding EFA Eligibility, Prohibits Mandatory School Mask Policies, and More

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Sen. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, is pictured standing Wednesday speaking against expanding eligibility for Education Freedom Accounts.


CONCORD – The state Senate expanded eligibility for the Education Freedom Accounts Wednesday, helping more parents pay to send their kids to private and religious schools.

And the Senate voted to change the state Primary date from the second Tuesday in September to the third Tuesday in June for every even-numbered year in HB 115.

During the long day which is expected to flow into Thursday, the voting included a rejection of a House-passed bill to expand rights to build in-law apartments and it approved about $26 million in retirement benefits for municipal and state fire, police and corrections officers in the so-called “Group 2” benefits plan. 


The vote on the EFAs was 14-10 with all Democrats opposing it, saying it is an example of out-of-control public spending, sending money from public schools to a program that lacks oversight and accountability.

House Bill 1665 will increase eligibility to the Education Freedom Account program, also known as school voucher program, to 400 percent of the federal poverty limit, allowing more families to pay for alternatives to public schools, advocates said. Currently the program eligibility requirements state a family must be at or below 350 percent of the federal poverty rate and when it began, it was at 300 percent.

HB 1665 now goes back to the House for a vote to determine if the House will concur, non-concur, or request a committee of conference.

“We are subsidizing religious and private schools that get to pick and choose which students they want in their schools,” said Sen. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, in opposing the bill.

“Let’s drop the pretense” that this is about financial aid to the poor when the threshold is now at or close to the median income level in the state, she added.

“We are moving towards privatization of education faster and faster,” Altschiller said.

Sen. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, said he believes parents should have a choice on where their children go to school in order to help more families.

There are now more than 4,200 students using the EFA, costing the state $23.8 million.

Altschiller said 72 percent of those who are enrolled in the program never enrolled in public school to begin with and never knew whether or not public school could work for them. She added there is little to no oversight on the EFAs.

In a joint statement educators, advocates, and community leaders slammed the passage of the bill and said it would lead to adverse impacts to public schools.

The House had first supported expansion from 350 percent to 500 percent of the federal poverty level but it was amended to 400 percent. It mirrors the language of Senate Bill 442, which was rejected by the House earlier this month. 

Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-NH, said: “Public dollars belong in public schools. Period. Any vote to expand the state’s unaccountable voucher scheme – yet again – is a vote to divert even more taxpayer funds from public schools, which are attended by more than 165,000 Granite State students.”

Deb Howes, president of the American Federation of Teachers-NH, said: “There are 165,000 students and their families who trust and rely on our local neighborhood public schools for their education. Our public school students, our local neighborhood public schools, and our local property taxpayers deserve better than pouring more tax money into a program that has been over budget for its entire existence.”

James McKim, president of the Manchester chapter of the NAACP, said nationally, 51 percent of children who attend public schools live in poverty. 

“…school vouchers give parents the false idea that public schools are inadequate to meet their child’s needs. And they impede communities from creating stronger relationships among public schools, parents, and teachers because of the stigma attached to the public school system,” McKim said.

Sarah Robinson, Education Justice Campaign Director for Granite State Progress, said: “A vote for school vouchers is a vote to increase local property taxes to pay for wealthy families to send students to private and religious schools, at the expense of our beloved public schools.”


The Senate approved HB 1093 which prohibits mandatory mask policies in schools. It extends to chartered public schools or public academies and outlines that any school district cannot adopt, enforce or implement a policy that requires facial coverings.

“Mandatory masking policies should be left in the past,” said Sen, Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, in a statement. “Medical decisions should be up to parents for minors,” she said.


To help with labor retention and recruitment for about 1,640 police, firefighters and corrections officers – but at half the cost approved by the House – the Senate approved $26 million to help fund retirement benefits for state employees for the “Group 2” tier B and C members. It would increase the multiplier for members and future hires to 2.5 percent for all years worked in excess of 10 years, said Birdsell. House Bill 1647-FN-A was amended to make it “fair and affordable” given other commitments, she said. It applies a 2.5 percent retirement annuity multiplier to creditable service earned beyond 15 years of creditable service for Group 2 members.

The vote was 24-0, and is still on second reading.

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, offered an amendment, adding more money but it was rejected by the Republican majority. She said instead of the 15 year mark it would be applied at the 10 year mark but only for this certain group, “the ones in the middle…caught in the middle of the transition.” 

She said the group cannot grow and will only diminish and as it does, the bill will cost less. 

But Birdsell said there are hard decisions that need to be made with limited resources. She said this would not force local property taxpayers to pick up the tab with $26 million immediately. She called the original bill a “compromise” and urged that the Senate reject Soucy’s amendment.

Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said in a statement after the vote that “two years ago, we passed HB 1587, which dedicated $42.9 million for the Group II members, such as police officers and firefighters, who had been hired when SB 3 passed but had not yet vested. This year, HB 1647 looks to adjust the annuity multiplier for Group II. As passed by the House, this would cost more than $53 million. We simply cannot afford that.

“The Senate Finance Committee’s amendment instead increased the multiplier for the Group II members after 15 years of service. This provides an incentive for experienced police and firefighters to stay on the job longer. This helps our local police and fire departments with retention; $26 million would be appropriated to pay for these increased benefits, which prevents local property taxpayers from footing the cost.

“We cannot allow the New Hampshire Retirement System to get into such bad shape ever again. We must reject the temptation to increase pension benefits beyond what the NHRS and local taxpayers can afford,” he said.


A bill that would have allowed for more in-law apartments across the state was sent to its death Wednesday by the Republican-controlled state Senate, despite an amendment offered by Democrats to address some of their concerns.

House Bill 1291 which would allow by right the owner of a home to build up to two accessory dwelling units in size going from what is now allowed at 750 feet to 1,000 feet, be they attached or unattached, had an amendment offered which would allow for either attached or unattached but not both and would retain municipal authority over everything else, was killed on a vote of 8-16.

Sen. Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford, said the bill was a “one size fits all approach” to the housing crisis and Sen. William Gannon, R-Sandown, said he was concerned about adequate water and septic impacts and a loss of local control.

He said this bill was not quite ready but that perhaps next year a form of it could be passed.

The body did allow for Soucy to offer her amendment but voted it down. She noted there has been a drop by 70 percent in available housing units in the state since 2018 and the median home price is now at $500,000.

Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, D-Portsmouth, said this would allow for “invisible infill” and help the housing crisis without it being seriously noticed as new development.

The amendment offered by Soucy, she said, was supported by many housing-related organizations and would be limited if there were municipal concerns for adequate septic and potable water. There would be no duplexes, triplexes or multi-story apartments but would help property owners who want to improve their homes, and help people who are seeking homes, said Soucy.

The New Hampshire REALTORS, the Business and Industry Association and Housing Action New Hampshire issued a statement after the vote that by rejecting the ADU bill “the Senate has closed the door on a simple solution to allow Granite Staters to use their own private property to help with the housing crisis. Our organizations will continue to mobilize our thousands of members to educate lawmakers so that they can start providing solutions instead of voting down important housing legislation.”

The group thanked Democrats who worked to support the bill.


A bill which would have extended “last call” at bars across the state went nowhere as the Senate killed HB 1227.

Gannon said no businesses came to support the bill at its hearing and noted that the state Liquor Commission regularly approves requests for extended hours for special events. He said the bill would be an added stress to law enforcement and takes away from local control.


House Bill 1114-FN was passed by the Senate which extends for five years the commission to investigate impacts relating to perfluorinated chemicals in the air, soil and groundwater in Merrimack, Bedford, Londonderry, Hudson and Litchfield. 


Despite Democratic opposition, HB 1369 was approved relative to the verification of voter rolls every four years.

Currently that happens every 10 years.

It also rejected HB 119 relative to changing the situation with absentee ballots.

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