Kay is a 63-year-old single mom in Manchester who would love to be able to retire in the next five years. But as things stand, she doesn’t think she’ll be able to. Her adopted son needs the kind of high school environment they haven’t found among area public schools. And she needs to find the funds to pay for what he needs.

Kay and her late husband adopted their son from Kay’s husband’s niece. The niece, who struggled with addiction, had three children adopted out. Two were adopted through child protective services and eventually wound up with a grandparent, Kay said. Kay and her husband adopted their son directly, so there were no financial stipends.

In 2019, Kay’s husband died unexpectedly, and she decided to move back East from the Southwest to be closer to family for support, she said. Kay, her son, and two daughters call Manchester home.

Under the income cap legislators set for the Education Freedom Account (EFA) program, Kay’s single-mom family is classified as a “family of four,” which is presumed to have two parents and two children. That classification has put her son’s educational needs just out of reach.

Kay is a sales professional with a good job. But sales work is not always steady work in a changing economy. After she was recruited to work for a New Hampshire company, things seemed to be settling down for the family, but six months after the relocation, and two weeks before Christmas, Kay was laid off, she said.
She joined a new company in April 2023, and three months later, due to market conditions and a company restructuring, she was again laid off.

For a single mom raising a teenage son and two older daughters that she’s put through college, the money, even when it’s steady, goes fast. Even today, she’s still catching up on finances from the layoffs, she said.

State law caps Education Freedom Account eligibility at 350% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that’s $109,200. Kay’s salary from her new job puts her $90 over the cap, she said.

On the state’s spreadsheet, Kay’s family of four looks like a family with two working adults and two children. The spreadsheet doesn’t know the difference between that typical family and a single mom with three children.

When Kay decided to move to Manchester for its perfect location between her work and the customers she serves in Boston, she didn’t realize the challenges in the local public schools, she said. Having lived in the Southwest for years, the cost of many local private schools was another surprise.

Unable to afford a private school for her son, Kay enrolled him in a public charter school in Manchester for 7th and 8th grade. But, given her son’s unique needs and background, she’s seeking a new environment with more resources that could be dedicated to him, she said.

“He has suffered a lot of loss, has ADHD, is in counseling and needs a positive environment with resources,” she said. “He’s a wonderful kid, but needs good examples in other students, leaders, academic support, and a school with athletics and activities.”

The charter school has done the best it can with the resources it has, and there are great people working there, Kay said, but it just isn’t the right place for her son.

In search of a different setting for her son for high school, a Catholic school in Manchester came highly recommended. On a tour, they met with several teachers, administrators, coaches, and even students.

“When we toured, he got in the car and said, ‘Mom, this is my school…everyone is so nice,’” Kay said.

Her son is very excited for robotics and sports. He’s motivated by the support he’d get to excel, she said. The school has academic coaches who will help him with studying, focus and time management, which Kay said was critical for him. The school has a guidance counselor who told her son, “I will be here for your four-year journey to set you up for success in college,” Kay said. She also thinks that the spiritual focus will be a positive influence given the things he is exposed to in a big city.

When she learned about the Education Freedom Account program, Kay thought it would be the answer to her son’s educational needs. But the income cap has kept them locked out. It sees her family as a two-parent, two-child family, not a single mom with three dependents who works in an industry where layoffs are a common risk.

“I get emotional about this because it upsets me that only your W2, not life circumstances, are taken into account when applying for financial aid with schools or education funds,” she said.

When one of her daughters is no longer a qualified dependent, Kay could apply for an EFA as a family of three. But she would again be over the 350% cap, which is currently $90,370 for a family of three.

With an income cap of 425% of the federal poverty level, though, Kay’s family would qualify both as a family of four (a $132,600 cap) and as a family of three (a $109,735 cap). The 425% cap is the limit set in the conference committee version of House Bill 1665.

Without a higher income cap for the EFA program, Kay said she’d take a second job to make the tuition work if she had to. Her daughter is prepared to switch to part-time at New Hampshire Technical Institute to cut the family’s costs, she said. They’d try to make things work, but it wouldn’t be easy.

She would sell her home and downsize, but high interest rates and lack of available homes on the market make that an unrealistic option.

For Kay’s family, the EFA income cap is keeping a perfect educational option just out of reach. A cap designed for traditional families has put a single mom in the position of getting a second job to pay for the education that’s right for her son.

In trying to limit EFA access to families in need, legislators have left out families in need who don’t fit the preconception of what a “family of four” or “family of three” looks like.

As other families will be doing this week, Kay said she and her son will be watching the EFA vote on Thursday with hope. If the income cap isn’t raised, she said she’ll become an activist to push for universal eligibility next year. The difference an EFA could make for families like hers is too important for her not to get involved, she said.

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.”

Sarah Breisch knew she could do better for her six children than send them to their government-assigned district public schools.

The public schools in their city, Claremont, are low-performing. “I don’t have anything necessarily philosophically against public schools,” Breisch told us, “but just being very honest and frank, Claremont’s public schools rank very, very low in terms of performance.”

According to a U.S. News & World Report ranking, Stevens High School, Claremont’s public high school, ranks 60th among high schools in the state. Only 36% of students in the Claremont school district are proficient in English language arts, while another 23% each are proficient in math and science—all in the bottom 25% among New Hampshire public school districts.

The school district also faces many similar problems afflicting other public schools in cities across the country. “We just have a lot of troubled families in our town and the public schools reflect that, and there’s just no getting around it,” she said. “So we just were like, ‘Okay, the kids are not going to go to public school.’”

Instead, Breisch elected to enroll them in a Sunapee private school 30 minutes from home called Mount Royal Academy. She first received assistance from New Hampshire’s Education Tax Credit Scholarship—the state’s first school-choice program that awards scholarships funded entirely by donations from individuals and businesses—to pay part of the tuition and help make ends meet. 

Since then, Breisch decided to homeschool two of her children because the traditional classroom setting was not meeting their unique needs. She said she was only able to do this thanks to the Education Freedom Account (EFA) program, in which Breisch’s family was one of the first to enroll when the program went online in 2021. 

“For my two kids that are being homeschooled, essentially the classic schoolroom is just not for them,” she said. “Your typical schoolroom setting just wasn’t working for them, and we were struggling with school refusal, lots of anxiety, it just wasn’t a good fit for them. So we’ve seen marked, marked improvement not just in their academics but just in their overall well-being being able to be homeschooled. And if not for the EFA, I still might have brought them home for their overall well-being, but I can’t say with certainty that it would have been too great for them because I don’t have the casual income to just kind of buy curriculum and things for them to use.” 

At one time, Breisch had four of her kids enrolled at Mount Royal Academy and two homeschooled. Her oldest child just graduated from Mount Royal last year and is currently attending Keene State College.

Breisch said all six of her children received an EFA worth roughly $4,700 each (compared to Clarmeont’s cost per pupil of $21,590 as of 2023). A similar amount was awarded to her four children at Mount Royal from the Education Tax Credit Scholarship as well. With Mount Royal’s maximum tuition being $10,700 per year, she said, these school choice programs allowed her to send her kids to an environment that suits them for little additional cost. 

​​“Basically those two awards that my kids in private school got essentially covers almost the entire cost of tuition. There’s still a little bit of family fundraising that we do, and I still have to get their uniforms and things like that, but it makes it possible for them to attend the school, and it’s serving them very well.”

The EFA program gave Breisch the freedom to explore what form of education works best for each of her kids. While she found that some of her children thrived in a more traditional school setting like Mount Royal, the EFAs gave her the resources to provide a more unconventional environment to suit her two homeschooled kids. 

“Just as an example: My son, who’s currently in eighth grade, we brought him home in the middle of seventh grade, and he was not in a place mentally where he was going to do anything academic, he just wasn’t able to do that,” she recalled. “But what he was able to do was a lot of art projects—it was almost therapeutic for him. And I’m an artist as well, so that was something that we kind of bonded over. And because of the EFA, I was able to purchase for him materials such as clay and clay tools and things like that that I would not have been able to buy with my own income…. It was definitely life-changing for him, it was absolutely life-changing.”

Securing access to an EFA for her eighth grader represented a complete transformation in his educational journey that was extremely healing for him, Breisch said. 

“Before it was just a daily struggle of, get out of bed, go to school, ‘Well, why?’ ‘Well, because you have to,’ ‘Why do I have to?’ So it’s like now in a place where he’s comfortable enough to start being curious about his own destiny, whereas before I feel like perhaps he felt like he was being pushed into a destiny someone else had in mind for him that didn’t feel like his.”

She found similar results with her two oldest kids at Mount Royal, she said. 

“My oldest, like I said, she graduated from [Mount Royal], she was inducted into the National Honor Society when she was in tenth grade, so she did really excellently there. She got great support from the teachers, she found the curriculum engaging, interesting, and just felt like it was a really great fit for her, and she was able to achieve really great things academically.”

And with her now-eleventh grader, Breisch recalled his previous struggles with math. “He’s very much internally motivated to do well, but he wasn’t able to connect with his teacher, he wasn’t able to connect with this material, not for lack of trying, it just wasn’t clicking with him. And the teacher acknowledged that. The best teacher in the world can’t necessarily connect with every student because people are just different.”

Thanks to Mount Royal’s flexibility and Breisch’s EFA funds, she was able to supplement her son’s classwork with an online algebra course from the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) that has led to remarkable improvement, she said. 

“I think he’s got like a B average now in that algebra class that he’s doing online. It’s just been great for him because now he can focus his energy on the classes he is taking at Mount Royal, and his grades are better than they’ve ever been, and he’s working a part-time job. And that’s what an eleventh-grade boy needs is to feel good about himself, and I just feel so great that we were able to have those options for him.”

Paying for a VLACS course, private school tuition, and/or art supplies with EFA funds isn’t as simple as the state sending cash straight to families for them to use however they please, Breisch explained. Rather, there’s more oversight than one might think.

“Certainly nothing like cash is just handed to parents,” she said. “That never happens. You apply to the program, you’re awarded an amount, and that amount goes directly to ClassWallet where it is managed by human beings. So you can go in there and shop on our approved vendor list and make a shopping list and send it off for approval, and then human beings have to look at that and approve it or not approve it.” 

ClassWallet is an approval-based system and restricted-use account through which EFA families can make purchase requests, one of the many ways in which the EFA program is held accountable to both parents and taxpayers.

“I’ve had orders be not approved and I’ve had orders be approved, it just depends on what you’re looking for…. Anything that is used to enrich a child’s educational experience will be approved, but they’re not going to approve things that are not obviously for that child’s educational use, and I think that’s really important for people to know.”

With six kids, Breisch had to navigate meeting six unique sets of learning needs, and it was the EFA program that gave her the ability to explore all the options out there for them. It’s no wonder, then, that she’s one of the program’s staunchest defenders.

“I like to try to be an apologist for the EFAs when people say to me, ‘Well, it’s taking funding away from students,’” she said. “I’m like, ‘Well, that’s just not logical because if the child isn’t enrolled in the public school, there would never be funding for them at all,’ so that’s a spurious argument to begin with.” 

The educational success had by Breisch’s four children is not available to all New Hampshire students. The EFA program is capped by income. Families earning more than 350% of the federal poverty level ($109,200 for a family of four) cannot participate. This excludes many middle-class families from having an actual choice in their children’s education. 

The House has passed a bill, House Bill 1665, to raise the cap to 500% of the federal poverty level ($156,000 for a family of four). The Senate trimmed it down to 400% ($124,800 for a family of four). Negotiations between the chambers are ongoing.

The reality of not having a real choice in education is something Breisch understands well.

“I always tell people you want to feel like you have a choice when you’re making a choice,” she explained. “But if you’re strapped and really can’t afford to do things that would be your preference, saying I have a choice doesn’t seem genuine. So I want as many people to know about the EFA program as possible because maybe you’re fine with using your local public school and that’s fine, but if you’d rather have a choice but don’t know that a choice exists, sending your kids there doesn’t really feel like you’re making a choice. It feels like it’s your only option and that doesn’t always feel good.” 

One family shopping among a wide variety of educational alternatives and learning models to meet each of their individual kids’ unique learning needs—why shouldn’t that apply to every Granite State student, or at least as many as possible? Expanding the EFA program to reach more families like Breisch’s would put more Granite State students in the driver’s seat of their own education, so that the Breisch family becomes more of the norm, not the exception. 

If we truly care about doing what’s best for students’ overall education and well-being, then empowering them and their families to pursue the best educational environments for themselves is the easiest way to accomplish that. As the Breisch family’s journey with EFAs (and reams of research) makes abundantly clear, more school choice leads to more successful students.  

“It’s all about choices. That’s really what this whole conversation is about,” Breisch said. “That I’m able to do different things for different kids, I think that’s the beauty of school choice in a nutshell.” 

A new fiscal analysis of the New Hampshire Education Freedom Account Program finds that EFAs have generated nearly $9 million in taxpayer savings in the 2023-24 school year and are projected to generate $23 million in savings annually from the current cohort of students.

It also shows that the total $24.8 million ESA program cost for fiscal year 2024 represents just 0.7% of the $3.5 billion funding that New Hampshire public schools receive from local, state, and federal sources and 0.3% of the state’s total expenditures on public services in fiscal year 2023.

The Education Freedom Account Program allows low- and middle-income households to deposit their per-pupil state adequate education grant into an education savings account (ESA) designated for various educational purposes such as private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, curriculum, educational therapies, and related expenses.

The study finds that:

  • During school year 2023-24, the program’s third year, the program generated an estimated $8.7 million in net fiscal benefits for state and local taxpayers combined.
  • In the long run, the program will generate $23.1 million in net fiscal benefits annually from this third-year cohort of students.
  • The New Hampshire Education Freedom Account Program provides ESAs worth an average of $5,255 for eligible students. This amount is worth 23% of the total per-pupil cost for New Hampshire public schools.
  • The total cost for New Hampshire’s ESA program is $24.8 million for the third year (school year 2023-24). This cost represents 0.7% of the $3.5 billion funding that New Hampshire public schools receive from local, state, and federal sources. The program cost represents 0.3% of the state’s total expenditure on public services.

Again, a comprehensive fiscal analysis of New Hampshire’s EFA program finds an overall cost savings to taxpayers.

One interesting note about this latest analysis is the switcher rate. A “switcher” is a student who would have enrolled in a district public school if not for the school choice program. New Hampshire’s EFA program is not reserved exclusively for students enrolled in a public school. Students enrolled in private schools or home-school programs also are eligible. A large percentage of students in New Hampshire’s EFA program were not enrolled in a public school when they applied for and received an EFA. But it turns out that many of those students had been public school students before.

A separate EdChoice study, published in March, used anonymized student data provided by the state’s EFA administrator, the Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire. EdChoice was able to determine that many students previously identified as private-school students, and therefore not switchers, had actually been enrolled in a public school the year before, or were entering the public education system in New Hampshire for the first time (either as kindergarten or first grade students, or as movers to New Hampshire). The actual switcher rate for New Hampshire’s EFA program is closer to 45% than the previously reported 11%.

You can download and read the full EdChoice EFA fiscal analysis here: 04 24 NH Brief.

As legislators consider making more Granite State families eligible for the popular Education Freedom Account (EFA) program, there appears to be some disagreement about what types of families would be able to use the program depending on where the income limits are set.

Currently, only families whose income does not exceed 350% of the federal poverty level can access an Education Freedom Account. The House has already passed a bill to expand eligibility to 500% of the federal poverty level. In the Senate, there’s been some discussion about setting the line at 400%.

Considering whether to expand eligibility for the EFA program to families earning no more than 400% versus 500% of the federal poverty level is not a trivial matter. 

To many New Hampshire families, the difference between 400% and 500% is the difference between finding the educational environment that meets their childrens’ needs or being stuck in a setting that doesn’t work for them.

Last week, we reported on Christine M.’s family of three. Christine and her husband work three jobs but can’t afford private school. They would qualify for an EFA with an income cap set at the 500% level, but not at the 400% threshold. 

Many other Granite State families find themselves in similar situations because 500% of the federal poverty level is hardly “rich.” 

The following chart shows what the eligible income caps would be under both the 400% and 500% expansions compared to the current eligibility standard of 350% of the federal poverty level.


Household/Family Size 350% of 2024 federal poverty level 400% of 2024 federal poverty level 500% of 2024 federal poverty level
2 $71,540 $81,760 $102,200
3 $90,370 $103,280 $129,100
4 $109,200 $124,800 $156,000
5 $128,030 $146,320 $182,900
6 $146,860 $167,840 $209,800
7 $165,690 $189,360 $236,700
8 $184,520 $210,880 $263,600

*For each additional person, add $18,830 at the 350% level, $21,520 at the 400% level, and $26,900 at the 500% level.

At these income thresholds, many families that few would consider affluent would be left out of the program. 

The following families would not be eligible for an EFA at the 400% level but would be eligible at the 500% level (according to the most recent data available of annual mean incomes in New Hampshire from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics):

  • A single registered nurse with one school-age child earning $83,420 per year;
  • A single dental hygienist with one school-age child earning $86,570 per year;
  • A married waiter and secondary school teacher with one school-age child earning a combined $103,820 per year;
  • A married childcare worker and school psychologist with one school-age child earning a combined $104,000 per year;
  • A married real estate agent and housekeeping cleaner with two school-age children earning a combined $127,660 per year;
  • A married mental health/substance abuse social worker and journalist with two school-age children earning a combined $125,720 per year;
  • A married middle school teacher and accountant with three school-age children earning a combined $146,410 per year;
  • A married paramedic and physical therapist with three school-age children earning a combined $149,850 per year.

Each of these far-from-rich families would be excluded from EFA eligibility under a new cap of 400%. 

Under 500%, however, they would all qualify for the program. 

This raises the question, then: What’s the real purpose of an income cap when families like these are left out?

Editor’s note: To avoid social repercussions in a small community, the subject of this story requested that only her first name be used and that her son’s name not be used. We granted the request. 

Christine M. spent three years trying to find the right learning environment for her son. When he started at Stevens High School in Claremont, the city’s public high school, it was a bad fit.

“We really struggled with that kind of environment for him,” Christine recalled. “He was having a lot of issues going to school, wanting to go to school, getting in engaged in school, not getting in trouble in school, that sort of thing. Getting pretty much nowhere with academics.” 

It didn’t help that Stevens High School is not a high-performing academic setting. The school finishes in the bottom 25% in English language arts and math proficiency, at 38% and 26%, respectively. 

“Then we went into our sophomore year. Had many, many more struggles. He was being asked to leave all the time for behavior issues. He just couldn’t engage in the classroom…. Our next step this year was to enroll him in the new charter school that opened in Claremont, River View Public Charter School. We enrolled him in that. He was kind of doing okay for a while, and then it became very clear that that method of online learning was not for him.”

River View is a tuition-free public charter school that uses Edmentum, an online learning platform that allows each student to work at their own pace. This wasn’t the right fit for Christine’s son either.  

“And we were getting nowhere with that, so we took him out of there,” she said. “And currently I have him homeschooling, and he’s working on studying and preparing for his GED test, his HiSET test. That’s the route we’re doing now.” 

After three years and three different learning environments, Christine thought she had finally found the educational setting in which her almost 17-year-old son would thrive. Throughout her son’s high school journey, Christine has had only one goal.

“Try to exhaust all the possibilities to get him successful so that he could a) learn something and b) end up with a diploma at the end,” she said. 

Exhausting all the possibilities finally led to the perfect fit, she thought. Christine found Micah Studios, co-founded by Stacey Hammerlind, a former colleague from the Newport School District. (We documented Hammerlind’s story last September.)

“When I heard she was opening this center for homeschoolers, I thought, okay, finally, this may be an option that will be successful, because we had pretty much…exhausted everything else that I could think of. And, of course, now he’s a junior, so we were running out of time, basically.” 

When Christine discovered that Hammerlind’s learning center, with its emphasis on individualized education and support, was up and running, she immediately reached out. 

“I contacted her when I started seeing that her studio…was taking applications,” Christine said. “So I kind of reached out and was like, ‘I think this might be something that could benefit my son. Can we talk about it?’ And she explained how it worked and all that, and I thought, okay, finally, he could be a homeschooler but have a place to go to do his homeschooling, because my husband and I both work full-time, and I knew that leaving him alone at home was not going to be successful. He wasn’t going to do it; he wasn’t going to do the work. And so that’s when we started talking about tuition, and I quickly found out that there was no way that we could afford it.”

Though they couldn’t pay out of pocket for their son’s education, Christine and her husband learned that enrollment at Micah Studios could be fully funded through an Education Freedom Account (EFA), the state’s largest school choice program. They were very excited. 

Micah Studios was just what they’d sought. 

“That was what we thought would be the best fit for him after exhausting all the other options, basically,” Christine said. 

The environment at Micah Studios fit her son’s individual needs in ways that the public options in the area did not.

“In the past, a lot of the issues were behavioral,” she said. “I know he would work much better in a smaller group with one-on-one instruction versus a classroom, and that’s just something, of course, that couldn’t happen at high school, at Stevens. And the River View Charter it could happen more, but there the kids were kind of just given the format and told to go, and he really needs more direction than that. 

“So I think that that would have been a benefit. I know Stacey’s group is small. I think there would have been more time for one-on-one instruction, one-on-one help with his online learning, with his homeschool work. Not to mention, just the distractions of everyday high school life. I mean, he’s a very social kid—class clown, that sort of thing—and that was hampering his success, to say the least.”

Christine had spent three years trying to find the best fit for her son’s education. When she finally found Micah Studios, she thought it was the long-lost answer. Instead, it was the rules of the EFA program—the very entity designed to help families like Christine’s access alternative education programs—that kept their son out. 

Christine’s family is not eligible for an EFA.

“When I heard about this thing Stacey was doing,” Christine said, “I thought, oh my God, finally, this is going to be success for him, but then the money got in the way.”

Current law caps eligibility for the EFA program at 350% of the federal poverty level. That makes the maximum income for a family of three like Christine’s $90,370. Her family is just above the limit.

Christine works a full-time job and her husband works two jobs, one full-time and one part-time. 

“That’s what we need to do to survive daily,” she said.

Their combined household income is $105,000—too much for their son to qualify for an EFA.

If Christine’s family had another child, both children would be eligible for EFAs. The program’s eligibility requirements are tied to federal poverty guidelines, which are tied to family size. But with one son and three jobs, their family was just over the limit. Now they struggle to homeschool their only child, calculating that this is a better option than sending him back to the two public schools that didn’t work for him. 

​​“Yeah, it’s been stressful,” Christine said. “Luckily my mom, his grandmother, sits with him sometimes and tries to steer him in the right direction, so some work is getting done just not the quantity of work I think if he had been in a place like Stacey’s studio. She’s doing her best to help us out with this, but it’s a burden.”

Asked if she would describe her three-job family as rich, Christine responded emphatically. 

“Yeah, no. I would definitely not,” she said. “We’re definitely not a rich family…. We are a family doing our best to get our son educated in not really the most ideal settings for him.”

An Education Freedom Account would mean a lot to her family, Christine said.

​​“What would it mean to us? I think it would mean that we would not be as stressed all the time. This has been a stress trying to figure out what to do with our son, like how to get him where he needs to go between freshman year and age 18. It would have been a relief for sure. This has been incredibly stressful. We’ve had many, many emotional moments on this journey of high school with him.”

Expanding EFA eligibility from 350% to 500% of the federal poverty level would raise the income threshold for a three-person family from $90,370 to $129,100. This would make Christine’s family eligible. 

The same can’t be said about expanding eligibility to 400% of the federal poverty level, which would increase the income cap to $103,280. At that threshold, Christine’s family would still fall short. 

A cutoff at 500% of the federal poverty level would still exclude a lot of families, but it would cover more than 60% of school-age children in the state. Though universal eligibility is preferable, this increase would allow many more children to find the educational environments that fit their needs.  

“I think being able to qualify for some kind of program like that would have just taken so many stresses out of his high school life,” Christine said, “and I think that it would have made him feel successful at something because I don’t think he feels that way.” 

For now, Christine will continue trying to homeschool her son while she and her husband work three jobs to make ends meet. She said that it’s hard, but it’s better than sending him back to the schools that didn’t work for him.


Child care in New Hampshire is often hard to find and, when you do, expensive. A bipartisan group of legislators has offered families some relief in a surprising way: zoning reform.

Child care offered to small groups of children in a caregiver’s home was once a popular option for many families. But professionalization and regulation of the industry produced a shift toward large (and expensive) commercial day care centers. A lot of families looking for cheaper alternatives today wonder where the old-fashioned, home-based child care providers went.

Many municipalities, it turns out, have passed zoning regulations prohibiting or restricting them.

“Many state and local governments have considered home daycares a ‘problem use’ and have therefore used zoning restrictions to ban them. Such restrictions reduce the availability of childcare in the affected neighborhoods and further increase the price of childcare services,” the Cato Institute’s Ryan Bourne has found.

House Bill 1567 would fix that in New Hampshire by requiring local zoning regulations to allow family child care programs as an accessory use (by right) to any primary residential use. 

Such home-base child care programs would be allowed “as long as all requirements for such programs adopted in rules of the department of health and human services (He-C 4002) are met,” the bill states.

Child care is expensive for many reasons, some of them regulatory. It is particularly expensive in New Hampshire. 

According to Child Care Aware, child care in New Hampshire costs an average of $10,140 per year for an infant in family child care and $10,400 for a toddler in family child care. For an infant and toddler in center-based child care, New Hampshire families are spending an average of $15,340 and $14,235 per year, respectively. 

On the “low end,” then, family child care for an infant accounts for 21% of per capita income in New Hampshire and 11.2% of medium household income in the state, while center-based child care for a toddler represents 29.5% of per capita income and 15.7% of medium household income in New Hampshire.

For context, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers its benchmark for affordable child care to be 7% of income. 

HB 1567 would not solve this problem, but it would help lower costs by largely doing away with “problem use” restrictions in residential zoning districts. This change would open more of the state to home-based family child care, free up the supply of those services, and, in turn, help reduce prices. 

This is a smart and efficient way to help lower child care costs by removing an unnecessary regulatory barrier that prohibits the entry of low-cost competitors into the marketplace. 

Legislators could achieve similar results by applying this same approach to a similar service: education.

Since the COVID-19 school closures, interest in small-scale education alternatives has exploded. Many families would love to send their children to home-based education providers in their own neighborhoods. But as teachers and former teachers have begun offering these services, they’ve sometimes run into the same zoning problems troubling many would-be day care providers. 

Kerry McDonald, senior education fellow with the Foundation for Economic Education, wrote two years ago for the Josiah Bartlett Center about a New Hampshire educator who encountered this problem: 

For Becky Owens in Chester, trying to offer sporadic homeschool programs on her farm property turned into a regulatory headache that likely would have deterred many other aspiring education entrepreneurs from moving forward. Owens had been homeschooling her own five children for several years, after pulling her oldest son from the local public elementary school because it wasn’t a good fit for her shy, sensitive boy. She wanted a more personalized educational environment for him and her other children that would be responsive to their individual learning needs and styles.

A college professor for 15 years with a Ph.D. in education, Owens decided to create that personalized learning environment, and eventually expand her offerings to other children in her community. In 2020, she decided to host occasional nature hikes on her property for small groups of local homeschoolers. She had a handful of students register for one of her hikes, and she placed a chalkboard sign in front of her house with the words “Farm Rich Nature Hike” so families could find her.

This simple gesture set off a cascade of events involving the local building inspector, who issued her a “cease and desist” letter for her farm walks. Over the subsequent weeks, Owens had to prepare numerous documents for local officials, including an aerial view of her property, and appear before the planning board to ask for permission to operate as a home-based business. She also had a property inspection from the local fire chief, even though her program was held entirely outside. All of this was required just so Owens could welcome a few children to her property for a nature walk. Her walks never exceeded 10 kids.

And although these local regulatory roadblocks didn’t stop Owens (eventually she got approved to operate as a home-based business), she’s the exception that proves the rule. Who knows how many other aspiring education entrepreneurs seeking to offer alternative learning environments have either given up when faced with such prospects or haven’t even tried. 

As with child care, some municipalities don’t allow “education” services to be offered in residential zones even if all other regulations are followed and there’s no impact on the neighbors. The provision of the service itself is forbidden.

HB 1567 offers a blueprint for how the state can easily expand the marketplace for needed services simply by allowing home-based providers to offer them on a small scale, provided the service doesn’t violate other rules that offer legitimate protections for consumers and neighbors.


The second group of bills to saddle the Education Freedom Account program with onerous red tape will be considered this week by the state House and Senate.

State lawmakers took up the first set of regulatory measures last week, voting down both House Bills 1512 and 1594. 

This week, the House will vote on HB 1418, 1610 and 1654, while the Senate considers Senate Bill 525

HB 1418, 1610 and 1654 seek to impose new controls on the EFA program, both its providers and participants. 

HB 1418 prohibits the purchase of school uniforms with EFA funds. 

In some academic settings, school uniforms are an essential part of a student’s education. The only way to receive an education at these institutions is to purchase and wear the required uniform. The point of the uniform typically is to instill a positive culture and reduce distractions. 

Uniforms “create an atmosphere in our schools that promotes discipline and order and learning,” as President Bill Clinton put it in 1996 when endorsing school uniforms during a visit to the Long Beach, Calif., school district (which still requires uniforms). Uniforms have long been viewed as a valuable tool for creating a disciplined, structured learning environment, so it’s unclear why they wouldn’t be an allowed educational expense.

The two other House bills, HB 1610 and 1654, target providers. Both bills would impose a set of costly requirements on EFA providers that would fundamentally discourage their participation in the program.

HB 1610 would require all educational settings in the state to administer standardized statewide tests in English language arts, reading and math. 

One characteristic of the growing education marketplace is a shift away from using standardized assessments as a primary measurement of student learning progress. In choosing an unconventional educational environment that accepts EFA funds, a parent might specifically seek a learning model that doesn’t assess student progress with standardized testing at all. 

The diversity of curricula and instructional methods among EFA vendors makes it impossible for a single standardized test to measure student learning accurately. Many (possibly most) curricula would not be aligned to the test. HB 1610 would lead to artificially low scores simply because of misalignment, creating the false impression that rich, quality programs are inadequate. 

By requiring all EFA education providers to administer standardized statewide assessments to the program’s participants, HB 1610 would force a one-size-fits-all learning measure on a decentralized and diverse program with a variety of learning models to choose from. Forcing this uniformity on families who strive to escape such constrictions might be the whole point. 

HB 1654, meanwhile, would subject all EFA providers to an annual state review to check their adherence to state and federal anti-discrimination laws. 

The legislation is duplicative, as all education service providers in the EFA program are required by state law to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Adding an additional layer of compliance costs on these vendors only serves to increase costs and further discourage provider participation in the program.

Over to the Senate, SB 525 takes proposed oversight of the EFA program to a new level. Similar to HB 1594 last week, the Senate’s bill would require EFA participants’ household incomes to be at or below the income cap for eligibility (currently 350% of the federal poverty level) each year during the student’s participation in the program. Currently, income is verified upon application.

Were annual income testing to become law, some students would lose their EFA even when parents receive small raises. This would create needless and potentially damaging disruptions to these students’ educations. You can read our analysis of the House’s similar measure here

Beyond that, SB 525 would also set reporting requirements and annual income verification audits for the program. Under SB 525, the state would verify continued income eligibility compliance among participants by subjecting a random one-third of EFA families to an audit every year. 

The Legislative Budget Assistant’s office wrote that it does not have authority to review families’ private records, so the state would have to obtain participating families’ financial records before reviews could be conducted. The large percentage of reviews required in the bill runs against the LBA’s standards and practices for audits, as it bases sample sizes on a program’s risk assessment. The LBA wrote in a fiscal note on the bill that conducting the hundreds of reviews required by SB 525 could add costs to the LBA’s budget and affect its ability to conduct its other required audits in a timely fashion.

Such an intrusive income verification regime would not only burden a state agency with hundreds of additional audits annually but would suppress participation in a program that, as we’ve noted before, saves taxpayers money. 

Any benefits to the state from these bills would be minimal, while the costs to participating families would be significant and the impact on taxpayers would be negative. These regulations seem to serve no other purpose beyond crippling EFAs and restricting their use. 


This week, two bills that would take Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs) away from children enrolled in the program will be considered in the state House of Representatives. 

We previously summarized a group of bills that would heavily regulate the EFA program to the point that its functionality and growth would be severely curtailed. The House will vote on two of those bills on Thursday. They are House Bills 1512 and 1594. 

HB 1512 would limit funding for the EFA program from the Education Trust Fund to so-called budgeted amounts. Specifically, the bill states that Education Trust Fund payments for EFAs “shall not exceed $19,800,000 for fiscal year 2024, and in subsequent fiscal years shall not exceed the amounts appropriated for such purpose in the biennial state operating budget.”

In other words, regardless of actual enrollment, the bill would limit EFA appropriations to the sums that legislators estimate would be needed to cover EFA enrollment. Critically, the bill misrepresents the program as one whose funding is intended to be fixed annually by a set annual appropriation. It is not. Just like public schools, the EFA program’s funding is based on enrollment. 

The “appropriated” amount to which HB 1512 refers is an estimate. Existing law directs the governor to draw a warrant to cover any costs that exceed the estimate, should program enrollment prove larger than budget writers guessed. The bill would simply forbid that warrant article from exceeding the estimate, effectively capping EFA enrollment.

While presented as a measure to protect the Education Trust Fund from unanticipated withdrawals, HB 1512 is in fact an effort to prohibit the organic growth of EFAs. The bill does not address anything other than EFAs that might result in a larger-than-budgeted state education expenditure. Public schools experience fluctuating enrollment every year, and thus also pose a risk of draining more from the trust fund than was previously estimated. The number of students who have special needs or come from disadvantaged backgrounds also fluctuates annually, and increases in those numbers cause larger withdrawals from the Education Trust Fund.

The truth is that enrollment in all educational options fluctuates from year to year, and budgeted amounts are merely projections (educated guesses). Assuming that actual spending on any form of public education should align with previous budgeted guesses would be a little like assuming that election results should align precisely with pre-election polling. The budgeted amount is the guess. The actual enrollment numbers are reality. It’s not the other way around.

Lawmakers accounted for those annual enrollment fluctuations when they designed the EFA program. That’s why the EFA statute lets its funding shrink or grow depending on actual program participation. 

As written, HB 1512 would change the EFA program to a set line item in the state’s biennial budget, though that’s not what it was intended to be. Funding for the EFA program is based on enrollment, just like public school spending is. This is the appropriate way to fund both.

The main argument for this legislation is the claim that the EFA program is “way over budget.” That’s not accurate, in that the statute funds the program based on enrollment, not a set line item in the budget. HB 1512, however, would bind the program to a set budget line while failing to hold the state’s spending formula for public education to the same standard. 

Taking EFAs away from kids while costing taxpayers more

This fundamental change in EFA funding would forcibly revoke EFAs from some children who currently have them because the program has already grown beyond the bill’s proposed spending limit. 

In the current fiscal year, appropriations for the EFA program are upwards of $22 million. Those appropriations are to meet the needs of the 4,933 enrolled students, a number that’s increased by 201.7% since the program’s inception and is expected to only keep growing, as the program is popular among families who seek an alternative to their children’s assigned public school. 

The bill also would increase, not cut, total education spending. The EFA program provides a publicly funded education at a fraction of the average per-pupil expenditure for New Hampshire public schools, which is currently $20,323 from all sources, state, local, and federal. The average per-pupil adequate education grant for an EFA is $5,255. Every student who moves from an EFA back to their assigned public school costs taxpayers more money, not less. 

Finally, HB 1512 seeks to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist. The Education Trust Fund is growing, not shrinking. Despite funding both public schools and EFAs, the Education Trust Fund ended the 2023 fiscal year with a surplus of $161 million and is projected to finish this fiscal year with a surplus of $232 million. 

Moreover, since public school enrollment has been falling for the last two decades and is expected to continue declining, the resulting extra money in the trust fund (even with the budgeted limit) would simply sit there unused as more and more students leave their government-assigned district public schools and enroll elsewhere. EFAs change that, allowing those students to take their per-pupil grants with them.

Another way to take EFAs away from kids

As HB 1512 attempts to cap the finances behind the EFA program, HB 1594 would further limit those who can participate in the program.

HB 1594 would establish “an annual review and qualification to determine eligibility to participate in the education freedom accounts program.” If a participant’s household income goes over the income cap (currently 350% of the federal poverty level) in any year, then that participant would cease to be eligible for the program and would lose the EFA.

Existing law requires that the income limit be met only when applying. That was done to provide continuity for families and prevent children from being sent back to an educational environment that didn’t work for them just because their family’s income grew during their time in school. 

But HB 1594 would effectively remove an EFA student from the program if, for example, his or her single parent making the average teacher’s salary in the state earned a raise of just $5,000. 

Cloaked under the guise of reigning in a “fiscally reckless” program, these regulations are specifically designed to force children back into their assigned public schools, even though their families have decided that those schools are not the best educational environments for them. 

These bills would remove students currently using EFAs from the program, which could be a jarring or even traumatic experience for some. 

They also would reduce competition in a growing educational marketplace by hamstringing the state’s largest school-choice program—one that saves taxpayers money. (See “Bartlett report shows that Education Freedom Accounts will save taxpayer money, improve student outcomes” and  “As NH public school district enrollment fell by 30,000 students in 19 years, spending rose by nearly $1 billion.”

Ultimately, each of these bills would not just restrict the growth of the EFA program but kick children out of it who are currently enrolled. They would do this in the name of protecting the Education Trust Fund, which enjoys a healthy surplus that is projected to exceed $200 million.   

The rest of the proposed measures to restrict EFAs—HB 1418, 1592, 1610, 1654, and SB 525—are due out of committee next week.


The Manchester school district’s proposed 2025 budget continues the city’s trend of spending more to teach fewer students. 

The district is asking for $232,227,530 for its 2024–25 school year budget. That’s an increase of $49,175,526, or 26.9%, since 2020–21. Even after adjusting for inflation,* the increase is still $16,967,892.80, or 7.9%, over the last four years. 

*The inflation calculation assumes 2.8% inflation between December 2023 and January 2025, which is above what the Federal Reserve System is forecasting. This analysis, therefore, likely understates the real inflation-adjusted growth in Manchester’s public school spending in its proposed 2025 budget. 

One might think that such a whopping spending increase must be tied to a correspondingly sharp increase in enrollment since 2021. On the contrary, enrollment in Manchester’s public schools as of October 2023 is 11,851 students, which is a drop of 529 students, or 4.3%, since 2020–21. 

Under the proposed budget, Manchester would be spending $21,921 per pupil, which the district calculates using its enrollment in January 2024 of 12,024 students. (If fall enrollment is lower, as trends suggest, the cost per student would be higher than projected.)

The Manchester school district’s 2020–21 budget was $183,052,004 for its 12,380 students, which represented a cost per pupil of $14,786. The proposed $21,921 per student is an increase of $7,135, or $4,533 adjusted for inflation, from four years before. That’s an inflation-adjusted jump of 26.1% in less than five years.

Since the 2020–21 school year, the district’s budget ballooned thanks in large part to unprecedented federal spending as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state also increased its per-pupil education aid last year. 

Manchester’s school budget was $183,959,257 in 2021–22 and $190,328,128 in 2022–23. It jumped to $226,982,607 in 2023–24, with $20 million of that being capital spending for facilities improvement incorporated into the annual school budget. 

The district added $20 million in the 2023–24 budget and another $20 million in the proposed 2024–25 budget to fund the first phase of the district’s long-term facilities plan. The school district is spending this money on facility upgrades for a declining student body, it should be noted. 

While the budget has consistently grown, the number of students enrolled in Manchester public schools has consistently declined. In the years ahead, the student population is expected to continue falling. But spending continues to rise, and now the district seeks even more money to spend. 

Meanwhile, the number of students enrolled in Manchester public schools has been declining. 

As the district spends more money to educate fewer students, the cost per student rises sharply. 

The city’s school district spending since 2021 continues the trend that dates back to the 1990s. 

In previous research, we found that Manchester school district spending rose by 68% as enrollment fell by 13% from 1995–2018.

Similarly, we showed that Manchester enrollment fell by 22.3% while spending rose by 22.7% from 2001–2019 in our statewide education spending report last year.

Looking back to 2001, the increase in per-pupil spending is quite stark. Manchester spent $8,698 per pupil in 2001, adjusted for inflation, according to last year’s report. That’s $13,223 less than the $21,921 the district proposes to spend per student next school year.

For nearly three decades, Manchester taxpayers have spent ever-increasing sums of money, even after adjusting for inflation, on a steadily shrinking number of public school students. 

Parents and voters might think they’ve bought better performance with all of that money. 

In 2023, proficiency in English language arts, math, and science sat at 28%, 19%, and 14%, respectively—all in the bottom 25% in the state. Proficiency in English language arts has remained largely stagnant since 2021, while math proficiency rose by 5 percentage points and science proficiency declined by 3 percentage points. 

The Manchester school district’s spending and test scores together reveal the flaw behind the idea that struggling school districts “just need more funding” to improve. 

City residents might want to look into these budgets in more detail and ask city officials why shrinking class sizes and tens of millions of dollars in higher spending haven’t led to better academic results for students.