Prospect of compromise EFA expansion raises hopes of families on edge of eligibility


After continuing negotiations into a second day, Committee of Conference members agreed this week to expand eligibility for the popular Education Freedom Account (EFA) program. The agreement reached on House Bill 1665 would raise the income threshold from 350% of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 425%. That figure is closer to the Senate’s position than the House’s, and whether the deal can pass the House is an open question.

At 425% of FPL, a family of four with an income of $132,600 would be eligible for an EFA, up from $109,200 under the current 350% cap. If legislators pass this expansion, an estimated 62% of New Hampshire students would be eligible for an EFA, according to EdChoice’s calculations.

The House earlier this year voted to expand eligibility to 500% of FPL, while the Senate had held firm at 400%. Though 425% is a disappointment for House members who’d hoped to include as many families as possible, it would still represent a significant increase from the current level of eligibility.

The 425%, if agreed to by both chambers, would make a difference for families like Christine M.’s, a mom we interviewed in March. Christine’s son had gone through three different learning environments in three years in search of the right fit. When the family finally discovered the educational setting best suited for him, they realized they couldn’t afford the tuition, and the family of three—two parents working a combined three jobs and earning $105,000—was not eligible for an EFA under the 350% cap.

If the Senate’s 400% expansion had passed, it wouldn’t have helped Christine’s family. But at the 425% income threshold, Christine’s family would finally be eligible for an EFA.

Janette Howell of Amherst has a master’s degree in education and says her five school-aged children need more individualized options than the local district school can provide. She urged legislators in April to expand eligibility, writing in New Hampshire Journal that her family does not qualify for EFAs at the current cap or at the Senate’s proposed 400% of FPL. Learning of the 425% compromise this week, she said she teared up realizing that her family would qualify.

“The increase to 425% is a small increase but a life-changing increase for many families across the state, including mine,” Howell told us. “It opens inspiring, formative educational access to students and relieves a tremendous financial burden from parents choosing a less traditional path to education for their children. As we received the news of this increase coming out of committee and ran the tentative numbers showing that we would qualify, my children cheered, and I had tears.”

An expansion to 425% would open the EFA doors to many other middle-income New Hampshire families.

For example, the following families would be eligible for EFAs at 425% of FPL (based on state average salaries):

* A single registered nurse with one school-age child earning $83,420, 
* A married waiter and secondary school teacher with one school-age child earning a combined $103,820, 
* A married real estate agent and housekeeping cleaner with two school-age children earning a combined $127,660, 
* A married mental health/substance abuse social worker and journalist with two school-age children earning a combined $125,720, and 
* A married middle school teacher and accountant with three school-age children earning a combined $146,410.

However, 425% does not cast as wide a net as an expansion to 500% would have. Though it would create opportunities for more students, others who could benefit from school choice will continue to be left out of the program.

The committee made other changes beyond the eligibility threshold. Members agreed to strike the bill’s section five, which added EFA participants to the calculation of average daily membership in attendance (ADMA) and average daily membership in residence (ADMR) for public schools.

Under current law, public school ADMA and ADMR are calculated by counting each homeschool student who is enrolled in a public school academic course as an additional 0.15 pupil for each course taken for the purpose of allocating state adequacy grants. In other words, public schools receive an additional 15% adequacy grant from the state for each one of their courses taken by a homeschool student.

The Senate had amended HB 1665 to include each student participating in the EFA program as an additional 0.15 pupil as part of ADMA and ADMR calculations, if that student took a course at a public school. In effect, this would have meant that for each public school course taught to an EFA student (because EFA participants can enroll in public school courses outside of their assigned districts), those public schools would have received an additional 15% state adequacy grant. The committee removed this provision.

To get to a 425% expansion and the removal of section five from HB 1665, House committee members agreed to the Senate’s extension of phase-out grants to district public schools.

When a district public school student leaves that school (by moving, graduating or transferring to a different school), the school no longer receives that student’s state per-pupil adequate education dollars because it no longer has the responsibility to educate that child. But this is only somewhat true for EFA students.

As part of the initial compromise to create the EFA program, the state still compensates each district public school for every student who enrolls in the EFA program. In other words, the state pays double for each EFA participant who switches from an assigned district public school. The student gets one state adequate education grant in an EFA, and the district public school gets a second one.

These phase-out grants were set to expire on July 1, 2026. The Senate voted to extend them to July 1, 2029, giving district public schools three more years’ worth of funding for each student who leaves through the EFA program. Some House members have called this provision a “poison pill,” and it is unclear whether the additional eligibility will be enough to get the legislation through the House.

With the conference committee deal complete, both the House and the Senate must agree to the new version of the bill before it can go to Gov. Sununu for his signature. The original iteration of HB 1665 passed the House by just one vote.

If HB 1665 passes both houses and is signed by the governor, then the state’s largest school-choice program, which has seen a 201.7% increase in participation in just three years, will be open to even more Granite State families seeking education freedom, an outcome that was considered virtually impossible at the start of this legislative session, given the partisan breakdown of the House.

Howell, of Amherst, said her family’s hope for a successful 2025 school year hangs on this week’s vote.

“We are so grateful for those who have worked for, supported and have been willing to compromise to make this increase potentially happen,” she said. “As we wait for the final vote, we are holding our breath and our hopes for this coming educational year.”