New Hampshire voters would have the option of creating local Education Freedom Accounts under a bill scheduled for consideration in the House this week.
Building on the popularity of the state’s new Education Freedom Account program, House Bill 607 would empower the voters in each school district to create a local EFA option for their own students.
Earlier last year, the bill was written off as all but dead on arrival. But it cleared the House Education Committee in November, and it has some insider buzz going into this week’s vote.
Under the bill, if 25 registered voters, or 2 percent of the registered voters in a school district, whichever is less, ask the district to create a local EFA program, the district would be required to put the question to voters at the next town meeting.
A 3/5 majority of town meeting voters would be needed to approve a program.
These local EFA programs would be similar to the existing state version, with some key differences. Notably, there is no income cap on participation in the local programs, and students enrolled in private schools would not be eligible. Also, eligibility would be limited to public school and home-schooled pupils who live in the district.
Funding for the program would come from the local portion of the district’s public education expenditures.
Opponents characterize the bill as defunding public schools. As with the original EFA legislation, this misunderstands the premise behind the proposal.
Communities fund public schools for the purpose of educating children. But a lot of children struggle to succeed in the current system.
The state’s own data show that 38% of New Hampshire students scored proficient or above in math in 2020 (down from 48% in 2019), and 52% scored proficient or above in reading in 2020 (down from 56% in 2019).
HB 607 would allow local voters to decide whether to let parents spend some of the money set aside for educating their children on services offered outside of their assigned public school.
The funds would have to be used for their intended purpose: to educate children. The difference is that families would have the choice of keeping their children in the assigned public school or spending their allotted education dollars on services offered by other providers.
Either way, the money goes to educate children. At issue is who decides which education services to purchase. Do school district officials decide, or do parents?
Initially, political prospects for the bill were considered dim, in large part because the EFA concept was so new in New Hampshire. But the state’s new EFA program has experienced higher-than-expected demand. More than 1,600 students chose an EFA this past fall.
There’s now a proven interest in education alternatives in New Hampshire. And because the bill would not mandate local EFAs, but would merely let voters choose whether to adopt them, it might have a stronger chance of passage than originally believed.