New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account program has doubled

Monitor staff
Published: 9/10/2022 11:35:48 AM
Modified: 9/10/2022 11:35:17 AM

Enrollment in New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account, or school voucher program, has doubled since its first year, the Department of Education announced Friday.

The program, which gives low-income students the opportunity to use state dollars for non-public education, now has 3,025 students enrolled for fall 2022, compared to 1,635 in the fall of 2021. Among the students who participated in the first year, 1,572 or 96% will be returning for a second year. 

“This program has grown significantly, and at a faster pace than other states that have adopted similar initiatives,” said Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut. “While it has exceeded our expectations, it is exciting and encouraging to know that New Hampshire families now have the opportunity to determine the best educational pathways for their children, and that economically disadvantaged students will also have various options to fit their personal learning needs.”

The Education Freedom Account program vouchers are totaling nearly $14.7 million this school year. Low-income New Hampshire students can use the vouchers for non-public education options like private schools, religious schools or to be homeschooled. To qualify, a child must come from a family with a household income that is 300% of the federal poverty level or below – $83,250 or less per year for a family of four.

Among the 3,025 current students participating in the Education Freedom Account program this year, about half or 1,504 students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch, indicating that they come from households making below 185% of the federal poverty level – $51,338 or less per year for a family of four. The other half of the participants fall between 185% and 300% of the federal poverty level.

“Half of the children enrolled are living below the poverty level,” Edelblut said. “These families are seeking a nontraditional instructional model for their children who may not have found educational success.”

The program has been controversial, with advocates saying it expands educational opportunities for students and opponents saying it hurts traditional public schools by taking away key funding they need to support their students. 

Like last year, the majority of participants continue to be students who were already pursuing non-public education before enrolling. About 42% of them (1,260 students) are what the Department of Education calls “switchers,” students who left their assigned public school to pursue a non-public education opportunity.

Among the switchers, about 55% made the switch in 2021 or 2022, presumably prompted by the Education Freedom Accounts program, while the rest left in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic or before.

Like the first year, the majority of participants continue to be younger students, with most in grades 1 to 6. There are far fewer high schoolers participating in the program, comparatively. About 187 of the program participants (about 6%) are special education students and 10 (less than 1%) are English Language Learners.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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