No Agreement Reached in First Education Freedom Account Session

Print More


House and Senate negotiators on House Bill 1665 to expand the Education Freedom Account Program, failed to reach agreement and will return to the bargaining table Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.


CONCORD — House and Senate negotiators over expanding the Education Freedom Account program did not reach a quick agreement Tuesday during their first meeting on House Bill 1665.

The House killed the Senate’s EFA expansion bill, Senate Bill 442, but the Senate put the contents of that bill on the House’s expansion bill, eliminating the House’s plan.

The Senate-approved bill lowers the eligibility for the program from the House approved 500 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, reducing the estimated increase in state costs to about $55 million from $70 million to $80 million annually.

The Senate’s version also reduces the amount of money the Children’s Scholarship Fund NH may retain for administering the program from 10 to 8 percent, extends the phaseout grants to school districts losing students to the EFA program for another three years, requires the Department of Education to track the money for the grants and allows school districts to receive additional state adequacy aid for EFA students who take a course at a public school in grades seven through 12.

The House Education Committee recommended SB 442 be killed and the House agreed last month to kill the bill.

At the beginning of the conference committee meeting Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, told the Senate negotiators recent elections in Texas removed a number of state Republican lawmakers who opposed school choice and that last week Louisiana approved universal school choice, which means every child is eligible regardless of their parents’ income.

He said a recent poll shows that 66 percent of adults and 74 percent of parents support EFAs. He said Texas is what happens when lawmakers fail to provide what people want.

“School choice is a very strong position with parents and families,” Cordelli said, and the House’s position of 500 percent is a good position and desired by the families of New Hampshire.”

A University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll found that 45 percent of those contacted opposed vouchers, while 35 percent supported them.

Sen. Timothy Lang, R-Sanbornton, said setting the threshold at 400 percent would essentially open the program to 50 percent of the families in the state to use Education Trust Fund dollars.

He also noted government does not turn on a dime, so adding more students to the program would impact public schools, so continuing the phaseout program for three more years would allow the schools losing students time to adjust.

He said the current phaseout program is ending so continuing it for three years for new students would be revenue neutral.

Lang said the Senate version would also track where the phaseout money is spent.

Several Democratic conference members suggested even the 400 percent threshold will add millions of dollars in state spending if an off-budget year, which could be difficult, but Senate President Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said lawmakers have already approved adding $60 million for the Youth Development Center abuse settlement fund and $27.5 million to help group II members of the state retirement system.

But Sen. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, said it will be difficult fitting the extra money into the budget at 400 percent, but the state is not in a position to be going to 500 percent of the federal poverty level.

Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, the chair of the House Education Committee, raised the issue of the state paying school districts 15 percent of a per pupil grant for EFA students attending a class at a public school or about $660.

He wondered if that wasn’t double dipping as the parent was supposed to pay the tuition if the EFA student attended one class at a public school.

Bradley said the Senate thought it was a good idea but the three-year extension of the phaseout money for public schools is far more important.

Lang said a homeschooling parent may want their child to go to a high school physics class instead of attempting to teach that at home, and this would give the schools some extra money for the extra student.

Cordelli proposed going to 450 percent of poverty and dropping the phaseout extension, but found little support from the Senate negotiators.

Bradley said some senators were taken back by the House indefinitely postponing the bill that would have required additional verification of income, particularly as the income threshold rises. Currently a parent has to only qualify once and the student is eligible for the program until they graduate or leave the program.

Lang defended the three-year extension of the phaseout grants to public schools saying that is exactly what lawmakers voted to do when they began the program in 2021 and now more students will be added and they should do that again to help the public schools adjust.

The two sides caucused, and the House returned to propose a 425 percent threshold, a two-year extension of the phaseout grants and eliminating the extra state money for EFA students attending public school classes.

The Senate proposed eliminating the additional money for classes but the rest of the bill stay as it is and the two sides decided to come back Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. to try again.

The EFA program provides an average per pupil grant of $5,255 to about 4,700 students this school year, up from the 1,600 students when the program began three years ago when the average grant was $4,952. 

Increasing the eligibility cap to 500 percent of the federal poverty level would cap the income of a family of four at $156,000 and $102,000 for a parent and child household based on federal 2024 figures.

The current rate of 350 percent limits income to $109,200 for a family of four and $71,540 for a family of two.

At the 400 percent threshold, a family of two would be able to earn up to $81,760 and a family of four up to $124,800.

The federal government estimates the median income in New Hampshire for a family of four is $133,447. 

The state money for the program comes from the Education Trust Fund, which also pays for state adequacy grants, some special education and school building aid, and other education items.

The fund currently has a surplus of about $212 million.

The controversial program was sold as an alternative for lower income parents to send their child to a more appropriate educational environment for their learning abilities other than public schools.

However, about 75 percent of the students in the program were not in public schools when they applied for the state grants and instead were in private or religious schools or in homeschooling.

The increase in eligibility has not significantly increased the number of students leaving public schools but has increased subsidies to attend private and religious schools or homeschooling programs. The majority of the EFA grant money goes to private Catholic schools as is true throughout the country where 29 states have some form of voucher programs allowing parents to use public money for alternatives to public schools, which continue to house the vast majority of school-age students.

States that have no eligibility cap have seen the program explode with non-public school students seeking grants that have nearly bankrupted Arizona and put Ohio public schools in peril.

When the program was first proposed in New Hampshire there was no income cap, but when the program was first approved as part of the 2021-2022 biennial budget it included a 300 percent poverty limit, which was raised to 350 percent for the current school year.

Critics of the program say it lacks academic accountability and financial transparency with the Children’s Scholarship Fund based in New York City so financial reporting is for the entire organization not what is spent on the New Hampshire program.

However, the majority of Legislature has refused to approve major changes to the program beyond increasing the income eligibility.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

Comments are closed.