A new study from the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy finds that the Education Freedom Account program in Senate Bill 130 would save taxpayers $6.65 million in its first two years, decrease state aid to district public schools by only 0.024% by its second year, and decrease district public school enrollment by an average of only 0.8% in its first year and 2% in its second year. (In the last decade, public school enrollments in New Hampshire have fluctuated by more than 9% a year, on average.)
It also would produce $30.6 million in higher lifetime earnings for students who take an EFA in the program’s second year, generate $12.9 million in economic benefits to the state by creating more high school graduates, and generate a savings to society of $163,000 from reduced felonies among the second year EFA class alone.
Below is the report’s executive summary. You can find the full report here: Analysis of SB 130 EFA Program. We post the tables for the appendices separately here: (appendix table C1) (appendix table c2) (appendix table c3)
Two bills introduced in the New Hampshire Legislature in January of 2021, House Bill 20 and Senate Bill 130, propose the creation of Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs) for NH families. The EFA program would allow any NH resident eligible to attend a public school in grades K-12 to use his or her per-pupil state education grant to pay for a variety of educational services chosen from a state-approved list. The Senate bill (SB 130) is moving forward after HB 20 stalled in the House. This report analyzes the Senate version of the bill.
As amended in the Senate Education Committee, SB 130 limits eligibility to families whose household income is less than 300 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL), adjusted for household size. If a family prefers their child’s assigned public school, then nothing changes. State adequate education grant money is automatically sent directly to the school district, as happens currently. If an eligible family prefers an alternative to their assigned school, parents could apply to create an EFA. The state would deposit the student’s adequate education grant (plus any qualifying differential aid) into the EFA. The family could then choose to spend that money on a number of pre-approved educational services, such as tuition at another public school, tuition at a private school, tutoring, special education services, tuition at a community college, and online education, among others.
This report provides a fiscal and economic analysis of this legislation, as well as a review of New Hampshire public education spending and academic outcomes in recent years. It finds that:
- The percentage of New Hampshire students eligible for EFAs is estimated to be 31.26 percent overall, and 31.1 percent for private school students.
- The state can expect approximately 966 students to use an EFA in the 2021-22 academic year and 2,335 to use an EFA in the 2022-23 academic year.These estimates are based on take-up rates of similar programs in Indiana and other states, as well as a review of take-up rates of other government aid programs.
- For the 2021-22 academic year, the average cost of an EFA would be $4,578.The projected cost to the state of the proposed EFA program would be $2.4 million, while local school districts would save an estimated $4.2 million, leading to a projected taxpayer savings of $1.85 million (with rounding).
- For the 2022-23 academic year, the average cost of an EFA would be $4,803.The projected cost to the state would be $5.9 million, while local school districts would save an estimated $10.7 million, for a net taxpayer savings of $4.8 million.
- The average reduction in state adequate education aid to local school districts would be $12,247 in the first year of the program and $32,126 in the second year, absent provisions in law that delay those reductions. That is an average of just 0.048% of district revenue in the first year and 0.049% in year two. But districts receive funding based on prior-year enrollment. Therefore, there is no reduction in state aid to districts in the first year. SB 130 requires that districts receive 50% of any lost EFA funding in year two as a “phase out grant.” With that grant in place, district revenue would fall by only $16,063 on average in year two, which is just 0.024% of average district revenue.
- The enrollment reduction per school district is projected to average 2.65 students (0.8%) in the first year of the program and 6.63 students (2%) in the second year. From 2010-2019, NH districts experienced an average annual enrollment change of 54 students, or 9.41% of their student populations. Enrollment changes caused by EFAs would fall well below the average fluctuation for which districts budget on an annual basis.
- Local school district savings would average $26,694 in year one and $68,005 in year two.
- The average EFA grant is only 23% as large as the cost of educating a student in a traditional NH public school, so the taxpayer cost of educating a student through an EFA is 77% less than the cost of educating a student in a traditional public school.
- The EFA program would result in a $28,744 increase in lifetime earnings per student for 1,063 public school students who choose an EFA in the second year of the program. That would generate a cumulative total of $30.6 million in higher lifetime earnings.
- The EFA program would result in 43 more high school graduates among its second year class, generating an additional $12.9 million in economic benefits for those students.
- The EFA program would cause a reduction in crime, generating a savings to society of $163,000 from reduced felonies among its second year class alone.
- Adjusted for inflation, total expenditures in New Hampshire public schools increased by 66 percent between the 1994-95 and 2017-18 school years, while public school enrollment fell by 9 percent.
- The number of teachers in New Hampshire public schools increased by 23 percent between 1994-95 and 2018-19, as the number of students fell by 9 percent.In addition, NH public schools increased their employment of non-teachers (all other staff) by 80 percent.
- While current spending per student (a figure that excludes capital and some other expenses) increased by 77 percent between 1994-95 and 2017-18, average teacher salaries increased by only 1 percent (both adjusted for inflation).
- Despite this large increase in spending per student and tremendous increase in staffing, New Hampshire public schools’ performance trends on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) lagged the nation between 2003 and 2019. NAEP gains in New Hampshire have lagged the national average in Mathematics, and NH’s average Reading performance has fallen.
- NH students’ academic performance has lagged behind the performance of the two states with the highest percentage of students enrolled in school choice programs, Arizona and Florida. In 2019, 6.7 percent of Arizona students and 4.9% of Florida students were participating in a state taxpayer-funded private school choice program. Only two-tenths of one percent of New Hampshire students were participating in New Hampshire’s town tuitioning program (to attend a private school) or the state’s Education Tax Credit Program. As shown in Section IV of this report, Arizona and Florida’s gains in NAEP scores far exceeded national changes and changes in New Hampshire’s average scores between 2003 and 2019. Both Arizona and Florida have child poverty rates about 2.5 times higher than New Hampshire’s rate, and both states spend about 70 percent less per student than New Hampshire’s public schools.
In summary, the EFA program in SB 130 can be expected to save NH taxpayers $6.65 million in its first two years, educate students at less than 25% of the cost of a traditional public school, increase the number of high school graduates, and create $30.6 million in higher lifteime earnings for its first students, $12.9 million in economic benefits for students who otherwise wouldn’t graduate high school, and $163,000 in benefits to the state from a reduction in felonies. In addition, evidence from other states suggests that the proposed EFA program is highly likely to improve outcomes for public school students who do not choose an EFA.