$8 million in school voucher funds sent to 1,635 NH students this month

  • Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut gives an update to the Education Freedom Account Oversight Committee at the NH State House on Nov. 9, 2021. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut gives an update to Sen. Erin Hennessey and other members of the Education Freedom Account Oversight Committee at the NH State House on Nov. 9, 2021. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • Frank Edelblut listens during a public hearing on his nomination to lead the state's education department, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Elise Amendola

Monitor staff
Published: 11/10/2021 2:28:58 PM

The first round of funding for New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Accounts, or school vouchers, will become available this month to 1,635 children who have been approved for the new program at a cost of about $8 million.

In Concord, 46 students will be receiving about $230,000 in grants, which allows them to use state funding for non-public learning experiences.

The grant accounts, which are being administered by the Children’s Scholarship Fund NH, will allow low-income students to use state dollars for private schools, religious schools, homeschool or an alternative education program.

“Education Freedom Accounts provide families with the flexibility to thrive while using customized learning, tutoring services, career schools, technical schools, homeschooling, and non-public and private schools to enhance and personalize academic experiences,” Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut told members of the legislative Education Freedom Account Oversight Committee Tuesday. “This is a true milestone for New Hampshire, especially since the pandemic created a clear demand for new and expansive educational options.”

The Education Freedom Accounts program, which was passed by the legislature this summer as an amendment to the state budget, has been a controversial one. Opponents, largely public education advocates, have said vouchers will hurt traditional public schools by taking away key funding they need to support their students. There are also concerns about state education funding, the majority of which is funded by taxpayers, being used to pay private entities.

Edelblut addressed the opposition Tuesday by saying that the amount taxpayers are spending for Education Freedom Accounts is $4,952 per student, is a lower cost than what taxpayers are spending for public schools, which averages around $20,000 per student.

“We have reduced the cost of a particular product that our customers want,” Edelblut said. “And the parents are the ones who are customers that are choosing this product. On an analogous basis, the way that I think about it is that we are offering new iPhones for 25% of the cost of a current iPhone, with features that customers are using that iPhone are very excited to get, and are making the choice to go out and buy them.”

To qualify for an Education Freedom Account, a child must live in New Hampshire and be eligible to participate in the public education system, and must come from a family with household income that is 300% of the federal poverty level or below, which equals about $26,500 per year for a family of four. The funds will be given to families in the form of a digital wallet containing the $4,952 grant which can be spent only on approved and qualified educational service providers. If there is money left over at the end of the year, it can roll over and be spent the following year. If a student drops out of their chosen program mid-year, the funding will be discontinued and the grant returned to the state.

Department of Education data shows that most of the children participating in the Education Freedom Accounts program are young, in grades K-3, with far fewer participating students at the middle and high school levels. Although the Department of Education doesn't know why there are more younger participants this year, Edelblut surmises it’s a mixture of newness to education and lower cost.

“It could be that as students are more mature in their education, they've been involved in their particular school, they like the education they're receiving, they are not interested in switching out of that particular system, as opposed to someone new or early in their education trajectory,” Edelblut said. “For younger students some of the alternative educational options that a parent might choose may be lower cost than perhaps a secondary system.”

Of the participating students, 879 are eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch program, 88 are special education students an 81 are English Language Learners. Some of the participating children have already been pursuing non-public education, but about 40% of them are what the Department of Education is calling “switchers,” students who left their assigned public school to pursue a non-public education. Of the 703 switchers, about 40% of them left their public school in 2021, presumably prompted by the Education Freedom Accounts program, while 31% of them left their public school in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and 28% left before COVID started. 

New Hampshire got 2,200 applications for Education Freedom Accounts, according to Edelblut, but many did not meet the eligibility criteria, or chose not to follow through with participation. 

 Manchester has the largest number of families enrolled throughout the state, with 166 students receiving Education Freedom Accounts, followed by Nashua with 64 students enrolled, Rochester with 52 students, Laconia with 52 and Concord with 46.

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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