A new UNH poll purports to show that Education Savings Accounts are unpopular in New Hampshire. That would be surprising because plenty of other survey data, including previous UNH polling, shows that ESAs (and school choice in general) draw more support than opposition. 

One look at the wording of the UNH Survey Center’s poll question shows that it’s deeply flawed. 

With public opinion polling, it’s critical to word the questions carefully and properly. 

For example, if you ask “Do like cake,” you’ll likely get a different answer than if you ask, “Do you like high-fat, high-calorie baked dessert breads covered in artery-clogging icing?”

People know what cake is, so you don’t have to describe or explain it. But most people don’t know what Education Savings Accounts are (past UNH polling shows this). So it’s critical that they be described accurately so people can offer an informed opinion. 

The UNH Survey Center has been careful with this question in the past. This time, it wasn’t, and the results were different than those produced by other surveys of ESA support. 

In 2018, the last time the Legislature considered an ESA bill, the UNH Survey Center offered an accurate description that informed the respondent. Even so, most people weren’t familiar with the concept. The pollster then tried to gauge the support only of those who said they had at least a little bit of knowledge about the legislation.

Here are the questions the UNH Survey Center asked in its February, 2018 poll:

“As you may know, the New Hampshire legislature is considering legislation that would create Education Savings Accounts, which would allow parents to receive a state-funded scholarship to use for education costs such as tuition, testing, fees, and books. If that child is not in their public school. How much have you seen or read about this bil, a great deal, a moderate amount, only a little, or nothing at all?”

“Supporters of the legislation say it will give parents more choice when it comes to their children’s education while opponents say it will take away state money that should be spent on public schools. Would you support or oppose this legislation or don’t you know enough about this to say?”

The first question correctly described ESAs as scholarships that could be spent on a variety of education expenses outside of a child’s assigned public school.

That poll found 40% support for ESAs, with only 33% opposed, 9% staying neutral and 18% saying they don’t know enough about the issue.

Contrast that with the March 2021 poll. 

It asked this question: 

“The New Hampshire Legislature is considering a bill that would create a voucher system, called “education freedom accounts” by supporters, that would give parents access to public dollars that could be put toward private schools (not colleges) for their children.”

That question generated the response that 35% support and 45% oppose. 

But the question inaccurately describes the EFA program in SB 130.

First, it describes EFAs as “vouchers,” which is not true. A voucher sends money directly to an education provider. EFAs create savings accounts controlled by parents, who then get to decide which state-approved education services to purchase. 

Second, it states only that the money goes to private schools other than colleges. That is misleading.

The EFA money does not go straight, or exclusively, to private schools. An EFA is a savings account that parents control, bounded by limits set in statute. Families could use the money for a long list of approved education expenses, including tuition at an out-of-district public school as well as a private school, tutoring, special education services, textbooks and curricula, tuition for individual classes at public and private schools as well as colleges, career and technical education, online classes, and more.

SB 130 also limits eligibility for EFAs to families with incomes of no more than 300% of the federal poverty level, would use only each student’s state adequate education grant, leaving local school funding untouched, and provides additional funding to public schools for each student who choses an EFA during the first three years of the program. 

No one listening to the UNH pollster would know any of that. 

When Education Savings Accounts and other forms of school choice are described accurately, polling shows that they tend to have strong support, particularly among lower-income and minority parents.

EdChoice has surveyed New Hampshire residents on this very issue. Its poll, conducted by Morning Consult, asks two questions.

In the first, it doesn’t describe ESAs. That question asks:

“Based on what you know or have heard from others, in general, what is your opinion of Education Savings Accounts?”

That question finds 39% support for ESAs, almost exactly what the UNH Survey Center found by inaccurately describing ESAs.

EdChoice, though, also asks a different question that accurately describes ESAs. It reads:

“An Education Savings Account in K-12 education — often called an ESA — establishes for parents a government-authorized savings account with restricted, but multiple uses for educational purposes. Parents can use these funds to pay for: school tuition; tutoring; online education programs; therapies for students with special needs; textbooks or other instructional materials; or save for future college expenses.”

When ESAs are properly described, support in New Hampshire shoots up to 70%. 

Education Next, a project of Harvard University and Stanford University, regularly tests public support for school choice programs. Its most recent poll, in 2020, found:

  • 51% of Americans support voucher programs in which government helps pay private school tuition costs for children, and only 36% oppose;
  • 44% support charter schools, and only 37% oppose;
  • 57% support tax-credit scholarship programs, and only 27% oppose. 

Education Next did not ask about Education Savings Accounts. But its polling finds school choice options to be more popular than unpopular. 

Another example of nationwide findings comes from the Associated Press, which just published the results of a survey that found more support than opposition for vouchers for low-income families.

The AP poll question was this:

“Do you favor, oppose, or neither favor nor oppose each of the following government-funded policies? * Give low income parents tax-funded vouchers they can use to help pay for tuition for their children to attend private or religious schools of their choice instead of public schools.”

Among K-12 parents, 46% favor vouchers for low-income students, and 28% oppose.

The March 2021 UNH poll was the only one here to find opposition exceeding support for school choice. There’s a reason for that. Its question was bad.

The UNH poll can’t possibly offer an accurate reflection of the public’s views on SB 130’s EFA program because it inaccurately described the program. The only New Hampshire poll to provide a good description of EFAs found 70 percent support for them. 

Policymakers considering this issue shouldn’t give any weight to a poll in which the topic being polled was so wrongly described. 

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)

Executive Summary:

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.

 

A review of public school spending, staffing and enrollment numbers going back to the 1994-95 school year might surprise a lot of Granite Staters who have heard for decades that New Hampshire public schools have been underfunded. The truth is that spending has risen dramatically as enrollment has declined. And much of that new spending was devoted to hiring staff.

Analyzing official state data, we found that:

  • ïAdjusted for inflation, total expenditures in New Hampshire public schools increased by 66 percent between the 1994-95 and 2017-18 school years.
  • ïAt the same time, public school enrollment fell by 9 percent.
  • ïThough enrollment was declining, the number of teachers in New Hampshire public schools increased by 23 percent between 1994-95 and 2018-19.
  • ïThe number of non-teachers (all other staff) increased by 80 percent from 1994-95 and 2018-19.
  • ï The combination of a staffing surge and an enrollment decline led to smaller student-teacher and student-staff ratios. From 1995-2019, New Hampshire’s student-teacher ratio fell from 15.6 students per teacher to 12.2. The student-staff ratio fell by nearly 50%, from 20 students per staff member in 95 to 10.8 students per staff member in 2019.
  • ïThe large spending increases did not produce large increases in average teacher salaries, however. Current spending per student, adjusted for inflation, increased by 77 percent between 1994-95 and 2017-18, yet average teacher salaries increased by only 1 percent, also on an inflation-adjusted basis. (“Current spending” excludes capital and some other expenses that are included in “total expenditures.” It’s the spending from which districts pay staff salaries.)

These findings come from a new report, to be released Monday. It will feature a spreadsheet that details these data for each school district in the state. Some districts experienced enrollment increases since 1994-95. (Bow, Hopkinton, Wilton-Lyndeboro, for example.) But most experienced declining enrollment. And as enrollment fell statewide, spending and staffing continued to increase. 

New Hampshire’s total expenditures per student have risen faster than the national average. 

In 2003, New Hampshire’s total expenditures per student were only slightly above the national average. The U.S. average that year was $9,299, and the New Hampshire figure was $9,802. By 2017, the U.S. average had risen to $13,834, but New Hampshire’s had grown to $17,006. (These figures are in nominal, not inflation-adjusted, dollars.)

In the last two years, there has been an increased focus on public school funding in New Hampshire. A wide variety of proposals have been floated for how public education could be funded or delivered differently. Amid all of this disagreement, one assertion that often goes unchallenged is the claim that public schools have suffered long-term reductions in overall funding. That simply isn’t true. As enrollment has declined, spending has increased. 

Any discussion of public education funding should begin by acknowledging this basic fact. 

By Shalimar Encarnacion

I am a mother of three (now adults) from Manchester, a former co-chair of the Manchester NAACP Education Committee, and a supporter of school choice. Let me tell you why.

As a Hispanic leader of color in my community, I’ve seen firsthand how many of our communities don’t have equal access to educational resources.  Today, people talk a lot about diversity, equity and inclusion. Those need to be goals in our educational system as well. Too often, the system falls short.

School choice would offer a huge step forward. It would help achieve our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals by removing barriers so our kids can reach their potential.

It would help students to succeed by letting parents put educational resources to use in the way that would best meet their child’s individual learning needs.

My path for parent advocacy in this area started when my children were having difficulty in school. Though all three of my children had childhood illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and cancer, I want to talk about my youngest, Angel, who incidentally just so happens to also have a dark skin complexion.

Angel was always struggling. He’s very high functioning on the autism spectrum, which went undiagnosed until he was nine. He has ADHD as well and is prone to severe migraines. He started with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in third grade, and was later downgraded to a 504 plan in high school.

In sixth grade, he was having lots of difficulty at our local public school. When he started at the middle school, we told them about the situation and asked if they could accommodate him. They said no to our requests, and they repeatedly refused many ideas that would align with his IEP.

He would always end up having problems with the teachers and the environment. The stress would trigger his migraines and cause him a lot of anxiety, which would have him acting out of his normal behaviors. The school’s repeated response to this was to give him in-school suspensions.

His father and I pulled him from that school. With help from the Children’s Scholarship Fund, we were able to put him in St. Casimir’s. He was there in eighth grade and he did amazingly well.  It was a night-and-day difference for him.

He begged us to never send him back to public school.

But after his father took on a new job with a higher income, we no longer qualified for the amount of scholarship that made it possible for us to move him to the private high school.

Had education freedom accounts been around then, we would have been able to use our state per-pupil education money to bridge the gap between what we could afford and what we needed to send him to a high school that would meet his needs.

But those accounts don’t exist. So today, Angel is back in the public school, where he is repeating his senior year. He is struggling.

I like saying that these things don’t have to be looked at as either/or propositions. We should look to these solutions from a both/and perspective.

Public schools don’t work for everyone, the same way private schools don’t work for everyone. Everywhere you turn, there are so many choices. Yet k-12 public education doesn’t offer all students the choices that work best for them.

We should make it possible for parents to choose what works best for their child.

I’ve spoken with multiple families who say that a choice program such as education freedom accounts would help them a lot. I know families that are struggling to pay for private school out of pocket because they don’t qualify for scholarships.

A school choice option such as an education freedom account would let parents put that money toward tuition, tutoring, tech training, special education services, college-level courses, online education, or even tuition at another public school. It would give families the ability to choose the education that works best for their children and not be stuck with whatever service their district school offers, regardless of whether it works for their child.

School choice is for the children. It is the only way to provide the best option for each individual child. It is about equity and inclusion for all, especially for students from communities of color. It’s important that you can see it through that lens. The system is full of forgotten children. We can’t keep denying them options.

Shalimar Encarnacion is a mother of three from Manchester.

(Editor’s note: In the original post, some charts pulled school district spending data from a different data set that covered a shorter time span than the staff and enrollment data. The spending increases therefore appeared smaller than they actually were. The charts have been corrected so that all data cover 1995-2018.)

 

“I think that eventually school choice is going to be part of education.”

Those were the words of Democratic state Rep. Barbara Shaw of Manchester, as she voted in the House Education Committee on Thursday to retain House Speaker Sherm Packard’s Education Freedom Accounts bill. 

Problems with a redrafted version of the bill caused the chairman to recommend retention rather than trying to move forward with a flawed bill.

Shaw is a bellwether representative on the issue of school choice. A career public school educator with a master’s degree in education administration, Shaw has decades of experience in public schools in New Hampshire. In 2018, she voted on first reading to pass SB 193, the initial Education Freedom Savings Accounts bill. 

She supports giving families more educational choices, a change she believes is inevitable. But as she said on Thursday, getting the details right is the key to creating a choice program for New Hampshire.

Shaw’s prediction is noteworthy in part because it comes from her, and in part because it reflects a growing recognition that educational choice has reached a saturation point in the broader culture. 

In 2018, UNH polled Granite Staters about the Education Freedom Accounts bill. It found that 55% of voters supported Education Freedom Accounts, and 60% of registered independents did. Even 44% of Democrats supported it.

EdChoice polled New Hampshire recently and found that when Granite Staters are told what Education Freedom Accounts are, 70% support them. 

Then there is parental experience with schooling during the pandemic. This school year has given middle-and upper-income families whose children generally do well in school a taste of what it’s like for families whose children struggle in a traditional school environment.

Local public schools serve many students very well. But there are always students who don’t fit into the system. Those from higher-income families have always had the option to move to another district or choose another type of school. But for many families, particularly those at the lower ends of the income distribution, options are very limited. Many wind up stuck in a school that doesn’t work well for them. 

Average Americans who may never have thought about school choice before now think the system needs to change. 

A national poll conducted monthly for the National Parents Union since the start of this school year reflects the change. A majority of parents say schools should not return to normal after the pandemic, but “should be focused on rethinking how we educate students….”

It’s easy to understand why the pandemic pushed this shift in thinking. In addition to the frustrations of dealing with whatever option the local school district has offered, parents are taxpayers too,. They can see that in many cases they’ve paid more every year without getting corresponding increases in services. 

Nashua, where parents have initiated a recall of school board members over remote instruction, is a good example.

From 1995-2018 real, inflation-adjusted spending per-pupil in the Nashua School District rose by 68% while student enrollment declined by 10%.

Moreover, Nashua continued to hire more staff while educating fewer students. Total staff increased by 25%. Teaching staff increased by 17% and non-teaching staff increased by 35%.

 

It’s a similar story in Manchester, where the superintendent has recommended closing one school and the city might close more because of declining enrollment. 

In the Queen City, enrollment declined by 13% from 1995-2018 while real per-pupil spending increased by 68%. Total staff increased by 25%. Teaching staff increased by 16% and non-teaching staff increased by 41%.

Parents are at a breaking point. As our culture has shifted to on-demand, a-la-carte service for almost everything, education continues to behave like a regulated monopoly, charging higher prices every year without offering much in the way of additional options tailored to fit individual needs. 

Parents have grown increasingly frustrated with a system that has been slow to adapt to changing needs. Now those needs are urgent for a much larger percentage of children than usual.

Parents aren’t willing to wait any longer. And the broader public agrees that children should not have to keep waiting.

School choice programs already operate in 29 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Polls show they have majority support. They are not fringe or extreme. They’re what Americans — and Granite Staters — want. 

Rep. Shaw was right. Choice is coming. It’s just a matter of when and how. 

There will soon be a lot of talk about Education Freedom Accounts (also known as Education Savings Accounts) in New Hampshire. 

Here’s a brief explainer of what they are and how they work. We’ll use the general term Education Savings Account, or ESA, for clarity.

Education Savings Accounts empower families with the freedom and flexibility to purchase a wide variety of educational products and services such as private school tuition and fees, tutoring, special education services, online education, and community college or other higher education expenses. Most states ensure that ESA funds are spent only on approved purchases via restricted-use bank accounts or online portals like ClassWallet.

Five states — Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee — use Education Savings Accounts as one method of purchasing educational services for students.

It’s important to understand that Education Savings Accounts do not give parents access to all of the money that otherwise would be spent to educate their child in a traditional public school. They use only a portion of that money, leaving the rest in the traditional public school system. 

Education Savings Account spending is severely restricted. It typically is limited to purchases such as private school tuition and fees, tutoring, special education services, online education, and community college or other higher education expenses.

This year, House Speaker Sherm Packard has introduced House Bill 20, the Education Freedom Account Act, to enable the creation of Educational Savings Accounts in New Hampshire.

HB 20 would change state law in a few important ways. 

Currently, the state sets aside $3,708 a year for every student who chooses a publicly funded education. The state offers additional money for low-income and special-needs children, so the average per-pupil state expenditure is higher than the base amount (closer to $4,600).

Under state law, parents have little say over where that money is spent. If they want to use it, their child must attend the local public school to which he or she was assigned, or a chartered public school. 

Though the purpose of that money is to educate each child, the state forbids parents from using it on any form of education that is offered outside the state-controlled system. 

As a result, if the local district school is not a good match for a child, families have only two options. They may enroll their child in a charter school if they can find one nearby that is a better fit. Or they can move to another school district, if they can afford to. 

An Education Savings Account allows parents to spend their education dollars on a broader menu of educational options, while still maintaining state oversight. 

HB 20 states that to receive an Education Freedom Account, a parent “shall agree” to use the funds only for certain qualifying expenses listed in the law. 

Those include private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, tutoring, educational services offered by a public or chartered public school, textbooks and other instructional materials, computer hardware, internet connectivity or other tech services used to meet a child’s educational needs, educational software, school uniforms, test and exam fees, special education services, career or technical school expenses, summer school expenses, higher education expenses, and travel to and from an education service provider.

The state would designate a scholarship organization to oversee the accounts. A parent who wanted an EFA would apply. If approved, the state would deposit the student’s per-pupil allotment into the account. The parent could then withdraw it for use on the qualifying expenses listed above. 

In this way, the state still exerts control over how the money is spent, but the parent can decide which service best suits the child. 

This funding mechanism broadens the number and type of educational services available to families who choose a publicly funded education. Instead of being limited to their assigned school or a charter school, families could choose from many more educational services — including public schools outside their home district. 

Under the current system, some families struggle to find an education that is the right match for their child. With an ESA, families would be able to shop for a better fit — with the state still maintaining oversight of the money.

“Our default position should be to try to keep the schools open and get children who are not in school back in school as best as we possibly can.”

— Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dec. 9, 2020

With the 2020-21 school year half over, tensions regarding school reopenings have reached new heights.

In Nashua, frustrated and angry parents are trying to recall school board members who oppose reopening the city’s public schools. 

The New Hampshire Education Association has demanded that teachers be classified with “high-risk first responders” and given priority access to limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccines.

News coverage, as usual, focuses on the politics rather than the data.

Stepping back from the drama and looking at the research, it is clear that reopening schools can be done safely, with little risk to students, teachers, staff, or the general public. 

In fact, that has been clear since the summer, when researchers at Johns Hopkins University pushed for schools to reopen. Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said that reopening schools “should be a national priority, and it’s much more important—immeasurably more important—than opening bars or restaurants.”

Regarding the risk to teachers and other school staff:

  • An occupational risk tool designed by the Vancouver School of Economics put Canada’s education sector in the medium risk category for COVID-19 exposure.

Regarding COVID-19 transmission in schools generally:

  • A Duke University study of North Carolina schools last fall “found extremely limited within-school secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2” and found that “no instances of child-to- adult transmission of SARS-CoV-2 were reported within schools.”
  • A study published in Eurosurveillance, the European journal of infectious disease epidemiology, last spring found “no evidence of secondary transmission of COVID-19 from children attending school in Ireland.”

Regarding schools and community spread:

  • “The data so far are not indicating that schools are a super spreader site,” University of Michigan infectious disease expert Dr. Preeti Malani said during an Infectious Diseases Society of America briefing in October. 
  • A University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research study published in December found that school instruction models don’t affect community spread when community infection rates are not high. When community rates are high, in-person instruction with a large percentage of students in school was associated with some additional community spread. The study found that “there is no significant evidence that school systems offering hybrid instruction increases COVID spread.”

The research is increasingly clear that schools can be opened safely when standard precautions are followed. 

Importantly, this summary addresses only the risks of COVID-19 exposure, and not the numerous demonstrated negative effects of school closures on student well-being (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Given the well-documented negative impact that school closures have had on students, and the low risks associated with reopening, it is evident that getting students back into classrooms ought to be regarded as an urgent need.  

An education funding system in which education dollars go to families rather than directly to school districts is “the ideal,” Gov. Chris Sununu said at the Josiah Bartlett Center’s first Libertas Virtual Event on Thursday.

New Hampshire should focus on student outcomes, not how much funding the system gets, the governor said. 

“You can sum all this up with: It’s gotta be about outcomes for the kids, not outcomes for the system,” the governor said. “We have to stop worrying about the system as much as the kids.”

The governor advocated Education Savings Accounts, which are like health savings accounts, but for education. 

The state would deposit a portion of a child’s per-pupil allotment of adequate education aid into a government-approved savings account, which the parent could then use for education expenses. 

They offer a way to put students first, and the pandemic has increased demand for such a change, Sununu said.

“This isn’t about the traditional school choice battle. If you’re thinking about it that way, you’re way behind. Independent, non-political individuals… people that traditionally weren’t involved in this discussion are stepping up and saying, ‘wait a minute, where is my money going? Why isn’t my kid in school? Why are we stuck remote learning when we know that we can and should be having our kids in school, at least in some facet… and they’re getting involved in this discussion about where their money — not our money, their money — is being spent. That’s gonna raise the level of debate to where it needs to be.”

Letting the money follow the child is not about the quality of public schools, but about finding a model that serves every child’s needs, he said.

“We have great public schools here. But there are one, two, three, four percent of the population where it’s not ideal, and giving them that opportunity is huge.”

With so many parents angry and frustrated with the limited public schooling options presented this school year, 2021 could be the year that New Hampshire joins the six other states that have education savings accounts, Sununu said.

Republican House Speaker nominee Sherm Packard and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley have introduced bills to create education savings accounts. 

In the 2017-18 legislative session, an education savings account bill passed the Senate but was narrowly defeated in the House. 

A Croydon couple on Wednesday filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state, challenging a law that forbids local school districts from paying tuition to religious schools.

In 2017, New Hampshire passed a law that allows school districts that don’t offer education at certain grade levels to send students to private schools for those grades. So if a district doesn’t have a middle school, it can tuition students to private middle schools. Except, the law specifically excludes religious schools.  

Dennis and Catherine Griffin raise their 12-year-old grandson, Clayton, in Croydon, which does not have a middle school. Clayton attends Mount Royal Academy, a Catholic school. If Clayton attended any of the private, non-religious middle schools in the area, his tuition would be paid by the school district. But because his family chose a Catholic school, the district cannot pay his tuition. 

The Griffins’ lawsuit says this prohibition is unconstitutional religious discrimination. 

The exclusion “is unconstitutional on its face,” the complaint says, because it amounts to “denying tuition payments to tuition-eligible students and their families on the sole basis that an otherwise eligible private school is sectarian.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June in Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue that states cannot exclude religious schools from public education programs just because the schools are religious.  

“In light of Espinoza, states like New Hampshire cannot deny tuition to families who live in choice towns and who choose to send their children to religious schools,” said Tim Keller, senior at the Institute for Justice, which is representing the Griffins. “The Supreme Court could not have been clearer when it said that while ‘[a] State need not subsidize private education[, ] once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.’”

The Griffins hope the courts will recognize the state law as unconstitutional under Espinoza and allow the district to pay Clayton’s tuition. 

“We’ve chosen what we believe is the best school for our grandson,” Dennis Griffin said in a statement released by the Institute for Justice. “It’s not fair that we can’t receive the same support that other families in the town receive just because his school is religious. We hope that New Hampshire courts will follow the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed a similar tuition bill in 2016, saying it was “unconstitutional” because it didn’t prohibit money from going to religious schools. In Espinoza, the Supreme Court reached precisely the opposite conclusion.

New Hampshire’s tax credit scholarship program, which lets businesses and individuals take business tax credits for donations made to certain approved scholarship programs, includes religious schools. 

The language prohibiting tuition money from going to “sectarian schools” was taken from a provision in New Hampshire’s constitution that prohibits tax money from going to such schools. That 1877 constitutional amendment, known as a Blaine amendment, was one of many passed nationwide in a wave of anti-Catholic fear after the Civil War. 

In Espinoza, the Supreme Court effectively nullified these amendments, holding that they amounted to unconstitutional religious discrimination. 

Charter schools increase the average quality of traditional public school teachers by providing high-quality, unlicensed teachers an easier pathway into the field, a new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes. 

“Because the fixed costs to participating in the charter sector are low, teachers are able to explore their taste for teaching before committing to fixed costs (licenses). This in turn generates positive selection on the quality of teachers entering public school careers,” conclude economists Jesse Bruhn of Brown University, Marcus Winters of Boston University and Scott A. Imberman of Michigan State University. 

Looking at Massachusetts public charter schools, the economists discovered that charter schools exhibited a U-shaped teacher attrition pattern, with high-performing teachers and low-performing teachers both tending to leave at high rates. But the destinations of the high-quality and low-quality teachers were polar opposites. 

Unlike in traditional public schools, low-performing charter school teachers tended to leave teaching for other fields. By contrast, high-performing charter school teachers tended to pursue licensure and transfer to a traditional public school. 

The authors conclude that the low barrier to entry for becoming a charter school teacher attracts people who are interested in teaching but who are not ready to commit to getting a four-year teaching degree and a state license. 

By offering a quick on-ramp into the teaching profession, instead of a wall that takes years to climb over, charter schools are able to attract talented teachers who otherwise would never enter the field. Once they decide to stick with teaching, they then pursue licensure and move to traditional public schools, which typically offer higher pay and more generous benefits. 

In short, charter schools perform a valuable public education service by weeding out poor-performing teachers and channeling high-performing ones into traditional public schools. 

Bruhn, Winters and Imberman write that “charter schools tend to hire unlicensed teachers who are ineligible to teach in the public sector and then there emerges a mobility pattern such that the least effective charter school teachers are more likely to exit teaching while effective teachers are more likely to obtain a license and move into the traditional public school sector. This pattern of results suggests that charter schools create a positive externality for local public schools by increasing the average quality of the labor available to them.”

Charter schools are public schools that are operated under a contract, or “charter,” with the state or a local school district. They are not subject to district-negotiated teacher union contracts or many state regulations that dictate how public schools are to operate. That gives them the flexibility to pursue alternative management practices. 

The authors note that rigid employment restrictions at traditional public schools likely make traditional public schools less, not more, effective.

“Employment restrictions embedded in collective bargaining agreements, administrative policies, and legislation may inhibit public school effectiveness by limiting their ability to retain effective teachers and remove ineffective teachers (Goldhaber & Hansen, 2010; Staiger & Rockoff, 2010; Cowen & Winters, 2013),” they write.

By contrast, charter schools that aren’t subject to rigid employment restrictions have found ways to recruit very high-performing teachers into the profession while pushing low-performing teachers out.