Teachers union sues state to block Education Freedom Account program

  • Frank Edelblut Elise Amendola

Monitor staff
Published: 12/9/2022 5:06:52 PM
Modified: 12/9/2022 5:06:32 PM

New Hampshire’s second-largest teacher union is suing Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut over the state’s Education Freedom Account program, saying the voucher system of using public money to fund private schools violates the New Hampshire Constitution.

A complaint filed in Merrimack County Superior Court Thursday by Deb Howes, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Hampshire, asked for an injunction to stop the state from funding the Education Freedom Account program.

“The state specifically earmarked this money for public education,” Howes said. “Instead, the state is stealing from public school students in plain sight to pay for its private voucher program. Public school students are losing out on millions of dollars that are needed to fix leaky old buildings, purchase and maintain modern computer equipment, buy books and materials published at least in the last decade to support student learning and provide more social and emotional assistance and other needs that will help students excel.”

The Education Freedom Account program, which was established in 2021, allows qualifying low-income students to attend private school using state dollars that would have funded their education at public school. The voucher program has been controversial since its inception, with advocates saying it expands educational opportunities for students and families, and opponents saying it hurts traditional public schools by taking away key funding needed to support students.

Enrollment in the Education Freedom Account program has doubled since it began, going from 1,635 students in 2021 to 3,025 this fall. The state is expected to issue grants totaling nearly $14.7 million this school year, according to the Department of Education.

The legal argument in Howes’s lawsuit focuses on several specific education funding sources, including the Education Trust Fund which distributes adequate education grants to school districts. The complaint cites a state law that says Education Trust Fund money can be used only for grants to municipalities’ school districts and charter schools. The argument also focuses on state lottery money which goes toward public education. The complaint cites a Constitutional provision that requires money from state-run lottery to be used exclusively for state school districts.

Education Freedom Accounts have proved a polarizing topic among state legislators. On Friday, Senate President Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, criticized the lawsuit.

“It’s unfortunate that AFT has sued to block New Hampshire’s very successful Education Freedom Account program that has given 3,000 students of families of modest means the opportunities they need to get the best education possible,” Bradley said. “AFT’s targeting of low-income students is inappropriate and counterproductive.”

However, the lawsuit claims sending public funds to private schools means the state is shirking its duty to provide public education.

“If Commissioner Edelblut wants to continue with his cherished voucher program, he needs to figure out a legal way to fund it,” Howes said. “But definitely not on the backs of public school students.”

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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